When asked about their footballing goals, not a lot of young boys would cite the Olympics as a target.
Despite being the most popular sport in the world and maintaining a presence at all but two of the modern incarnations of the event, football is largely an afterthought compared to the likes of track and field, swimming and even basketball when the eyes of the world turn to the Olympics’ new host city every four years.
With tournaments such as the World Cup and Champions League already serving as the ultimate arbiters of glory and renown in both the international and club aspects sport, football at the Olympics has instead been transformed into a competition for the best and brightest of the U23 ranks, who are then supplemented by three overage additions.
Nonetheless, despite its unique place in the world of football, the allure of becoming an Olympian is one that cannot fail to capture the imagination; legacy and legends of an event 34-years older than the World Cup creating an unsurpassed attraction to those with a chance to make it a part of their story.
“When I was a bit younger it was always the World Cup or the Asian Cup,” Melbourne City and Olyroo midfielder Denis Genreau told FTBL.
“Then you realise that the Olympics – as you get older – it’s actually a massive deal.
“We saw what it meant to Neymar when he went to the Olympics and won it. It’s such a big thing to represent your country at the Olympics.
“It was a long time ago that the last Australian team qualified for it and in all the team meetings they always show the last team that made it. They cite this stat that 20 out of the 23 players that went to the Olympics in 2008 ended up getting Socceroos caps. A lot of players that go to the Olympics end up being Socceroos.
“I think it’s a really, really big stepping stone to get to the Socceroos and then to a World Cup.”
Genreau recently returned to Australia from Qatar where he, alongside 22 other Australian U23 prospects, took part in an eight-day training camp under the instruction of Gary van Egmond – the Young Socceroos gaffer filling in for Head Coach Graham Arnold while the latter was in charge of the Socceroos.
As part of proceedings, the Olyroos defeated a Qatari club side 2-0 before then going down 2-1 to the U23 side of Iran in two friendlies organised as part of the camp.
One of only five players currently on the books at A-League clubs called up, Genreau was on the scoresheet in the win over the Qatari club side; sending home a free-kick from just outside the penalty area.
However, having spent the 2018/19 season on loan with Dutch Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle and been a part of the Olyroos Australian based camp in September, the 20-year-old wasn’t completely absent familiar faces during his time in the Middle East – a boost as he looks to secure his place at Tokyo 2020.
“The boy I was rooming with – [Willem II's] Dylan Ryan – I met him in a game last year in the reserves,” Genreau laughed.
“I heard an Australian accent and I went up to him after the game and asked if he was Aussie and he did happen to be Australian. I didn’t know him then but now I was rooming with him in Qatar.
“Gary [van Egmond] is a good coach. He’s a lot different to Arnie but, in terms of the way he wants to play, it’s all through… he touches base with Arnie a lot – Arnie oversees everything.
“[van Egmond] brought us in with a new pressing style as well, so hopefully we’ll have a few different ways for Olympic qualification in January. He’s a different style of coach and he’s good – I really like him.
“I think with the Olyroos it’s good to get regular game time when I’m not playing in Melbourne, it’s good to go away and still get some minutes.
“All eyes are on the Olympics at the moment so that’s my goal. I’m really happy that I keep getting called up for these camps and that I’m still in the mix. I’m hoping I can stay in there for the qualifiers in January and then the Olympics.”
Now back in Melbourne, Genreau’s more immediate goal will be forcing his way into a crowded City midfield featuring the likes of Josh Brilliante, Connor Metcalfe, Adrian Luna, Florin Berenguer and Rostyn Griffiths.
“I back myself,” said Genreau
“I think I’m good enough to play, I’m just waiting for an opportunity. When it’s given to me, I’ll do my best and take it.”