As England finish off their preparations for their assault on the FIFA World Cup (and their inevitable brave/ abject defeat in the Quarter Finals/ Round of 16/ Group stages), Gareth Southgate and The FA can be pleased with how the last month or so has gone. Yes, a certain player’s choice of tattoo created a bit of a storm and the squad are only a poor performance against Costa Rica away from the mood switching once again, but there is currently a positive – yet balanced – feeling in the air. Starting with Southgate’s squad announcement: not too much controversy regarding the selections there. He always said he would pick based on form and, in the main, Gareth has done exactly that, with the double-barrelled bolters – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – both worthy of their spots, in my humble opinion. He also clearly has a plan about how he wants the team to play (finally a considered move away from 4-4-2?!?) and has picked the individuals that can play in this system. So far, so good.
I also think The FA’s squad announcement film deserves credit. Whilst clearly not everyone’s cup of tea (and the detractors were very welcome to stick to BBC Sport for the big news, as this really wasn’t for them), The FA’s marketing team should be applauded for taking a risk and branching out from the typical media release and manager press conference, to create something that could really engage with young football fans. In featuring young fans (and, crucially, those from the length and breadth of the country), Wieden + Kennedy’s work suitably represented the fresh, young playing squad who are ‘hungry’ and ready to ‘get to work’.
No big, pressure-building statements about belief or it being our time, just a sense that this group of players are ready to do their very best. And isn’t that all we as fans can really ask from this inexperienced squad? We often talk about the need to own a moment (see our AJ and Kano Under Armour film for more on that) and The FA managed it. I also liked how they used Twitter’s RT mechanism to give fans the chance to see the video first; and it was a lovely build to ask the players to use their own social channels to show that, ultimately, they too are England fans.
And then on Tuesday, Gareth and The FA pulled off a PR masterstroke. Taking inspiration from the Super Bowl media day, The FA opened up St. George’s Park to the media and gave access to all 23 players in the squad at the same time. The FA recognise that the relationship between the media and the national team hasn’t always been the rosiest and it is clearly in their interest to try and keep the press on side over the next six weeks (and beyond)… and initiatives like this can only help. Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday evening as Chappers and his team interviewed each and every player, you really got a sense of a group of young and hardworking players who are enjoying this open and relaxed environment – and have every intention of enjoying their Russian experience.
Obviously, this is all well and good, but we all know judgement will come when the tournament starts. If Southgate can translate this modest, good-mood feeling into some exciting performances in Russia, then perhaps we the fans, and The FA can bask in a brilliant summer.
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