OPINION: PR must be priority for next England boss

So the tabloids got their man, Steve McClaren got his pay-off, and only the England fans were left short-changed.

The barrage of ‘Wally With a Brolly’ tabloid ridicule heaped on the unloved McClaren’s bouffant head will have sold a few extra papers and given the fans their bittersweet pub  laughs.

The baleful storm of media hype will continue throughout the Football Association’s tortured process of appointing the next coach. It may yet claim a victim from the FA powerbrokers derided by the media as  ‘buffoons in blazers’.

For both the FA committee and for their new appointee, the PR challenges will be formidable.

Ultimately the best PR for any national team coach in these fevered sporting isles is a run of victories. Ideally this should culminate in the winning, or at least near-winning, of a major trophy. However, such is the level of commercial opportunity and populist hysteria around football and the national team that the new man would do well to consider the off-field PR challenges as carefully as he weighs those on-field. The FA too will have to work overtime to ensure that its strategy can compete with the media’s ferocious blame game. Thus far the plan seems to have been to portray the rapid removal of McClaren as decisive action, accept responsibility for appointing the wrong man, and move on to the next appointment with the announcement of a review.

All good textbook crisis management stuff, but will it hold against the tide of opinion formers intent that the malaise went higher than the misguided appointment of an uninspirational coach?

The multi-billion-pound commercialism of the game brings great challenges. Global sponsors and commercial stakeholders form key audiences that must be addressed. So too do the fans, empowered by football phone-in microphones.

Then there is the wider audience of those millions, not football fans in the traditional sense, who have come in these secular and post-nationalistic times to invest their hopes in football in general and the national game in particular.

For millions football is the new religion. Football strips are worn at occasions of rejoice and sorrow such as funerals of young people whose obituaries define them by the team they supported.

The national football team provides a rare legitimate opportunity for patriotic hearts to be worn on sleeves, for flags to be waved and anthems to be sung. Its performances are virtually the only tangible remaining sign of national virility. Pity the PR-meister who has to explain that in Italian or German to the new manager.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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