With the majority of the squads made up of Under 23 players, stars who are still finding their feet with their club sides or trying to force themselves into a more prominent role at international level have an excellent platform at the Games to showcase their quality.
Some of the football’s greatest ever players as well as managerial geniuses have honed their skills at the Olympics so Sportsmail looks at the big names who have used the Games as a launchpad for their careers.
The Olympics have given global platforms for many stars to showcase their talents. Argentina’s 2008 team featured Lionel Messi (bottom left), Sergio Aguero (second bottom left), Angel di Maria (second bottom right), Javier Mascherano (bottom right), Pablo Zabaleta (second top right) and Sergio Romero (third top left)
Gabriel Jesus (Brazil, 2016)
In Rio, the pressure was on Brazil to deliver, especially with the bitter taste of the World Cup two years prior still lingering when they were humiliated on home soil following a 7-1 hammering by Germany in the semi-final.
In Rio, there were a few fresh faces lined up and of the relative unknowns it was Gabriel Jesus who took the tournament by storm.
Helping the then 19-year-old in the starting XI that summer were the established stars in forward Neymar (then of Barcelona) and Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos in the defence.
Gabriel Jesus (left) celebrates his Rio gold medal along with Brazilian team-mate Neymar
The current Manchester City striker netted three goals during the tournament including two in the 6-0 semi-final victory over Honduras, before starting against Germany where the hosts gained a measure of revenge for two years earlier by taking gold following a penalty shootout.
City had already been tracking the striker before the Olympics and signed him in line for a 2017 arrival before the tournament in a £27million deal. His impressive displays though ensured City boss Pep Guardiola had full confidence in the striker to feature straight away in the Premier League where he would score seven goals from 10 games in his first half-season at the club.
Serge Gnabry (Germany, 2016)
Although he would only end the Rio Olympics with a silver medal, Gnabry’s Rio displays were a much needed boost to a career that had grown stale and needed a serious kickstart.
At the time, the promising 21-year-old was struggling to break into the Arsenal first-team and had just endured a poor season loan spell at West Bromwich Albion where he failed to show his best during a dreadful year for the Baggies that saw them relegated from the Premier League.
After a stuttering year with West Brom, Serge Gnabry started to find form at the Rio Games
With his career at a crossroads, the summer provided an ideal opportunity to show his ability along with Germany’s other young stars – and he stole the spotlight by finishing as Rio’s top goalscorer with six goals.
Despite the penalty shootout defeat by Brazil in the gold medal match, his displays were a perfect advert and although Arsene Wenger wanted him to stay at the Emirates Stadium, 11 days after the defeat in Rio he signed for Werder Bremen.
The Olympics springboard meant just over a year later his new found form and confidence saw him land a move to Bayern Munich where he is now a major part of the German giants’ attack.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt, 2012)
It wasn’t at Chelsea in 2014 where Salah first played in England, neither was it at Tottenham where he starred for Basle in a Europa League tie a year earlier.
In fact, the Liverpool star’s English debut was at home of the Reds’ bitter rivals Manchester United as the forward lined up for Egypt at Old Trafford to mark their second match of the London Games following an opener in Cardiff.
Of course, he scored. Grabbing the equaliser against New Zealand following an opening goal from current Burnley star Chris Wood.
Mohamed Salah’s first taste of football in England came with Egypt at the London 2012 Games
At the time, Salah was a 20-year-old complete unknown in the game having just agreed a move to Basle from his home nation, but he was already important at least at Under 23 level as he helped Egypt into the quarter-finals of the Olympics.
Although he would net in the Egypt’s other group games against Brazil and Belarus, his run of form ended in the quarter-final loss against Japan where the African side were beaten 3-0.
While an excellent 18 months at Basle preceded a stall in his career playing a bit-part role at Chelsea, the forward has gone on to become one of the major players for Liverpool via a spell in Italy having won the Premier League and Champions League.
Lionel Messi (Argentina, 2008)
The cat had already been let out of the bag at this point in Lionel Messi’s career, who at 21 years old had already played for Argentina in the World Cup and was featuring often in the Barcelona first-team.
But those incredible goal numbers that would come to define his career as arguably one of the greatest of all time were yet to be seen – while he still had little to show at international level following an ordinary 2006 World Cup in Germany.
He nearly never even travelled to Beijing, with Barca ready to block his participation due to it clashing with the start of a new LaLiga season only for his club boss Pep Guardiola to step in and insist the experience would help his development.
Lionel Messi used the Beijing Olympics as a springboard to turn him into a world class player
Not for the first time in his managerial career, Guardiola’s call was entirely justified. Messi was a key man as Argentina’s star studded squad which also included Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria took gold.
They saw off strong opposition in Holland and Brazil on their way to the gold medal match against Nigeria where Messi played the through ball for Di Maria to scoop a lob over the keeper and secure a 1-0 win.
The following season saw Messi score over twice as many goals for Barcelona during a campaign with 38. He has not scored under 30 since with club and personal honours domestically and in Europe attracted to him like magnets. By contrast though, his gold medal remains his only international accolade.
Carlos Tevez (Argentina, 2004)
While only very few outside of Barcelona would have been aware about the Messi talent that was just about to be unleashed onto the world in 2004, there was another Argentine causing much excitement.
Tevez was still just 20 years old heading into the Olympics but was already becoming an important player at Boca Juniors in his homeland.
Top clubs in Spain had started weighing up Tevez at this point but it was Brazilian side Corinthians before the Athens Games who moved quickest to secure his signature.
Carlos Tevez backed up his youthful promise by helping Argentina take Gold in Athens in 2004
Tevez starred in a team coached by current Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa (centre)
Europe got an early taste of the tenacious forward and he stole the headlines in Marcelo Bielsa’s side with eight goals in just six games – including a hat-trick against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, the opener against Italy in the semi-finals and the crucial only goal in the gold medal match against Paraguay.
Tevez’s star form followed him to Brazil after the Games before he secured a shock move to West Ham a year later where he became a cult hero. Trophies soon followed in moves to Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus.
Now 37, his career has come full circle as he is back at Boca Juniors.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon, 2000)
The real star of the 2000 Sydney Games was Chile’s Ivan Zamorano… the only trouble was as one of the few designated over-23 stars the top scorer with six goals was just about at the end of his career following goal-laden stints with Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Madrid though did have a diamond at the Games in Eto’o, however he was struggling to gain first-team action at the Bernabeu before he headed to Sydney as a 19-year-old.
Samuel Eto’o was struggling to get minutes with Real Madrid before lighting up Sydney 2000
Although he only scored one goal during the tournament, he was a key figure in a side that claimed the gold medal after defeating a Spain team in the final who boasted the likes of Barcelona duo Carles Puyol and Xavi in their ranks.
Real Mallorca took a punt on Eto’o after the games, and the striker seemed to have left a mark on Puyol and Xavi, eventually ending up at the Nou Camp in 2004 where he would enjoy much success and scoring 133 goals in just 199 games.
Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria, 1996)
Pele once said that an African side would win the World Cup by 1990 and while that prediction is now over 30 years beyond its deadline, it wasn’t long after when the continent picked up major success.
Nigeria stunned at the Atlanta Games when they defeated Argentina 3-2 in the gold medal match, but it was against Brazil in the semi-final where there was even more high drama.
Brazil had proven comfortable playing in the United States after winning the World Cup two years earlier and were on their way to the final leading Nigeria 3-2 in the final minute.
Former Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu (left) stunned Brazil in the semi-final at Atlanta in 1996 before helping Nigeria become the first African side to win the Olympic tournament
But up stepped Nwankwo Kanu, a lanky 19-year-old striker who had been making his mark with Ajax but looking to prove himself on the world stage. With a casual flick up and volley from close range to grab a last-minute equaliser, he did just that.
In extra-time he went one better, four minutes into the initial 30-minute period of ‘Golden Goal’ (the formal term for ‘next goal wins’) he picked up a loose ball, took on a defender and hammered home a strike to fire Nigeria into the final in sensational style.
The following year he was lining up at Inter Milan before joining Arsenal in 1999 and being involved in the Invincibles side of 2003-04. Moves to West Brom and Portsmouth followed, ending his career at the later in 2012 following a six-year spell.
Ronaldo (Brazil, 1996)
Sure, Ronaldo wasn’t that much of an unknown at this point. He was already scoring goals by the bucket loads at PSV Eindhoven and had already won the World Cup with Brazil at USA ’94.
Yet you have to remember this was the mid-1990s, and TV access to international leagues was much rarer and that Ronaldo had not played a minute during the World Cup success.
The Atlanta Games gave the world a first real chance to catch the talents of Ronaldo (top)
Ronaldo may have only earned a bronze medal but he was one of the standout stars for Brazil
So for many fans around the world Atlanta ’96 was the first real glimpse of the 19-year-old who would go on to become arguably the best player on the planet during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The striker was sensational at the Games, scoring five goals as his pace combined with his skill and agility made him close to unstoppable, even if Brazil fell in a 4-3 semi-final defeat by Nigeria.
It was of little surprise to see him line up for Barcelona after Atlanta, before he would later feature for many of Europe’s biggest teams in Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan. Injuries would hamper his career but he still managed to play a starring role in helping Brazil win the World Cup in 2002.
Hernan Crespo (Argentina, 1996)
Kanu won the tournament, Ronaldo backed up his star prospect tag but neither could outscore Argentina’s secret weapon at Atlanta.
It was Argentina’s first tournament since Diego Maradona’s unceremonious farewell at the previous World Cup and the search for a new star was well underway.
That was always going to prove a near impossible job, but in Hernan Crespo they had a world class goalscorer ready to slot straight into the international set-up.
Argentina’s Hernan Crespo ended the Atlanta Games as joint top scorer with six goals
At the time, the 21-year-old was at River Plate but his six goals at the Games was only matched by Brazil’s already-established striker Bebeto to leave him a major target for European sides.
It was Parma who won the race to sign him and his career blossomed from there, enjoying future success at the Italian club before he briefly became the most expensive player in the world after joining Lazio in 2000 for £35.5million.
The goals continued to flow after later joining Inter Milan, Chelsea and AC Milan before ending his career with a second spell at Parma in 2012.
Pep Guardiola (Spain, 1992)
Is there anything Pep Guardiola cannot do? As well as carving out a career as an excellent midfielder and then a world class manager, the Manchester City boss is also an Olympic gold medallist.
He wasn’t just making up the numbers either. He scored Spain’s opening goal of the Barcelona Games in a 4-0 victory over Colombia and then as a defensive midfielder protected his backline across five matches right up until the gold medal finale where Spain conceded their first goal of the tournament.
In the Nou Camp showdown, Spain fell behind before leading 2-1 only to concede again with 14 minutes to play. However in a team which also featured Luis Enrique, Kiko netted a last minute winner to give Spain gold on home soil.
Current Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was one of Spain’s stars at Barcelona ’92
The current Manchester City boss (second left) helped Spain take gold at the Nou Camp
Guardiola was 21 years old at this point of his career and had just enjoyed his first full season at Barcelona.
His Olympic and club form led to his first senior cap with Spain two months after claiming gold and he would earn a respectable 46 more over the next nine years while at the Nou Camp.
Tottenham, Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham all looked to sign Guardiola after he left Barca in 2001 but he ended his top-level career at Brescia, with a short spell at Roma sandwiched in between, before starting his managerial masterclass back at Barca in 2008 and moving on to Bayern Munich and City.