Frozen-out Fletcher edges closer to Team GB

TEAM GB football manager Stuart Pearce has cut his squad for the Olympic Games from 191 to 80 names, and Steven Fletcher, James Forrest, Barry Bannan and David Goodwillie are thought to be among the Scots who remain on the list.

The Scottish Football Association, which remains vehemently opposed to the participation of a United Kingdom team at the football tournament in London, has urged all players to think very carefully about the consequences of accepting an invitation.

Pearce, the manager of the England under-21 team and also caretaker manager of the full English national side, will cut those 80 names to 35 by 8 June. The final step will then take place on 6 July, when he names a squad of 18 plus four reserves for the Olympics.

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The tournament is for under-23s, with three over-aged players allowed. David Beckham is set to take one of those places, while Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy are under consideration for the others. If all three are named there will be no place for 24-year-old Fletcher.

Scottish bookmakers originally offered 10-1 that a Scot would pull on the Team GB shirt and participate, but yesterday they cut the price from 2-1 to 6-4, following the news that Fletcher is on the short list. Paul Petrie, spokesman commented: “Team GB seem adamant that they want a Scot playing as there is no way that Fletcher would be considered for one of the over age spots in normal circumstances. With him currently in dispute with Craig Levein and refusing to play for Scotland, this would be a real kick in the teeth to the Tartan Army.”

Although it has been claimed that only a handful of players turned down the invitation to join the bigger squad of almost 200, Scottish sources believe that does not necessarily indicate any enthusiasm for the project north of the Border.

Letters to players said that they would be presumed to have accepted the invitation unless they wrote back to rule themselves out, and it is understood that very few such letters have been received by Pearce and his colleagues. But the SFA have expressly urged players not to get involved in any correspondence at present, and so believe it unfair of Team GB officials to presume that players have accepted their invitations just because they have not rejected them in writing.

Members of the Scotland squad, along with any other players who have asked the Hampden authorities for advice, have been urged to do nothing at the moment, and to concern themselves with the consequences of selection only if they are named in Pearce’s final squad. Those players have been told that, while the SFA would be neither willing nor legally entitled to impose any sanctions on players who opted to turn out for Team GB, they should be aware of the deepseated hostility to the united team of a sizeable majority of Scotland supporters.

The SFA insists it has a duty to warn players, and has pointed out the reaction in Wales after Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were pictured wearing the Team GB shirt. Both men were booed the next time they played for Wales, and said they had not been told by the Welsh FA to expect that reaction.

The inclusion of Wolves striker Fletcher is a particularly difficult issue for the SFA, as he has been out of the Scotland squad since February of last year following a falling-out with manager Craig Levein. If Fletcher sees no prospect of being recalled by Levein, he could be more minded to accept an invitation from Pearce. Team GB have so far refused to publish the list of 80, and there were conflicting claims last night about who is included. Bannan, Forrest, Goodwillie, Allan McGregor and Grant Hanley are among the other Scots who have been mentioned, although one source said that Rangers goalkeeper McGregor had “failed” to make the cut.

McGregor would have less reason than most to refuse to play for Team GB, as many supporters of the Ibrox club are enthusiastic about the united team and would give their backing to the inclusion of their club’s players.

Steven Naismith is another Rangers player who was originally linked with the Olympic squad, but he is still making a recovery from a cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out for the season last October.

“The Scottish Football Association’s position in regard to Team GB is clear and unequivocal, and in line with the Welsh Football Association and the Irish Football Association,” an SFA spokesman told The Scotsman yesterday. The three governing bodies have consistently argued that co-operation with the Team GB project would undermine their autonomy and potentially lead to pressure on the home unions to surrender their independent status within world football.

Hampden will be one of the venues for the event, although it will not host any Great Britain matches. Around a million and a half tickets are still available for the competition.

GB will learn their three group stage opponents at the official draw on Tuesday, The final place in the men’s competition will be decided at Coventry on Monday, when Senegal take on Oman in a play-off.