So goodbye Team GB and welcome back club England. The timing of England’s match against Italy, three days after the end of the Games, was very telling. For while this pre-season friendly – albeit it showed English football is not quite bereft of ability – is no time to make judgements about the post-Euro 2012 state of the game, it does allow us to assess the lessons the Olympics holds for the national game.
The first thing we have to avoid is a knee-jerk, exaggerated response that the Olympics and the wonderful glow it has created could now bathe English football in a new light. The idea that the spirit generated by Team GB could be taken and just bolted on to football and all other sports is nonsense.
The fact is, as far as this country is concerned, there are severe limitations as to what the Olympics can do. This reflects the unique nature of sport in this country, a legacy of the fact that this country invented most modern sports. We can talk as much as we like, as various opinion formers and leader writers have done, about making sure that everything is done to ensure Team GB is honoured and valued. But the fact is, Team GB as a sporting concept only comes together for the Olympics.
Outside the Olympics, in most of the major team sports, certainly the ones that dominate the media: football, rugby, cricket, even a relatively minor sport like hockey, there is no such thing as Team GB. Sport is the preserve of the various home nations and indeed, the next time we have an Olympic style festival of sport, two years from now in Glasgow, there will be no Team GB. There cannot be.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the gathering together of what were once the colonies of the British Empire will see lots of Team England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and many other dominions that once flew the Union Flag, but no Team GB.
The contrast here with Italy is telling. In Italy, which learnt many of the modern sports from this country, the Italian Olympic Association, the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano (CONI) has, since 1914, been responsible for the development and management of sport in that country. And the Italian Football federation is part of CONI. In contrast, the British Olympic Association for many years was little more than a glorified travel agency that made sure athletes and officials got to the Games. It has come a long way since those days and it can say with justifiable pride that at London 2012, it sent out the greatest team in the sporting history of this country.
But for all its achievements at these Games, outside the Olympics it has no say, for instance, on how football is run in Great Britain. This was vividly demonstrated in the all mighty struggle it had to wage to even field a Team GB football team, with the Scottish Football Association determined to resist.
Now you will say all this is mere structure. But structure matters. In a country like Italy, because CONI controls all federations, it can lay down the law on how the various sports operate. Outside the Olympics, any attempt by the BOA to do that would be met first with derision, and then anger. Yes, the various sports can still learn a lot from the Olympic spirit, but that will depend on how each individual sport reacts to the London Games.
As far as football is concerned, I hope the sport would learn from how top Olympic stars conduct themselves. They may be great performers on the field of play, but they do not behave like Maradonnas who have a god-given right to an exalted status.
Not even Usain Bolt, undoubtedly one of the all time greats of athletics exudes such an air. For all his showmanship, he comes across as very much a down-to-earth man who has not forgotten where he emerged from.
But for our footballers to learn such lessons in personal conduct, it would have to come, not just from the FA, but from the clubs. This is where much of the education of our footballers begin. Sad to say, not many of our clubs go in for wider education of the players under their charge. And for all the talk of the Olympic spirit, I cannot see that changing. The dismal conclusion is that, in the end, it may prove easier to win 29 golds, and come third in the Olympics, than change the behaviour of our footballers.
Follow Mihir on Twitter @mihirbose