Tuesday was judgement day for England Manager Fabio Capello as he named the 23 men who will board the jumbo to South Africa for this month’s World Cup.
A rather dismal 2-1 win over Japan on Sunday (with Japanese players scoring all three goals) was apparently enough for Capello to make up his mind, but he kept tight-lipped until yesterday’s much anticipated announcement. Ironic then that after all the secrecy England football fans found out from Twitter, albeit unofficially, which seven players would be dropped from Capello’s initial short list of 30.
The moment that Theo Walcott’s name was mentioned as one of the casualties, the Twittersphere erupted. The young teenage sensation who was unexpectedly called up to the 2006 squad having never kicked a ball in Premier league competition was now equally unexpectedly omitted from the 2010 line-up.
But rather than nip the leak in the bud and bring forward the official announcement from its allotted 3pm time slot, the FA instead delayed it to the tune of one hour. Did the FA or Mr. Capello not expect names to leak, for speculation to be rife at what is the biggest single piece of news in English football this year? Were there not contingencies in place to counter Twitter rumour? Or for that matter did they really expect the rejected players to keep quiet in the many hours between the dreaded phone call and the FA announcement?
One person played a stroke of PR genius and that was Walcott himself who immediately issued a statement saying: “I am very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr Capello’s decision. I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament.”
A brilliant move. Not only did he manage to steal a march on the FA and Fabio Capello but he showed grace and maturity in wishing the team well in South Africa. He might not have won a place in the final 23 but his PR tactics are world class.
The Daily Telegraph summed up the feelings succinctly when Claudine Beaumont signed off with: “Fingers crossed the England team has a better grasp of formations, tactics and training methods than it does social media…”
And there is the crux of the problem; there continues to be lack of appreciation for the impact that social media platforms are having in sport. Traditional press releases and web announcements still have their place but sometimes the weight of expectation requires more urgency and a better understanding of a fan’s resourcefulness.
Mr. Capello and the FA would be wise to learn from this experience because the path to World Cup glory is not paved with generous Japanese defenders…