View a full range of our ebooks

View full library

Explore

Our Location

The PHA Group
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Digital Studio
Fourth Floor,
47 Dean St,
Soho,
London,
W1D 5BE

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Finance Department
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com

Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

The festive holidays are one that we all relish but often we find the time off disappears before we know it. In fact, Christmas turkeys, crackers and glorious mulled wine seem a distant fading memory right now.

But as Christmas departs a new year begins and with that fresh optimism is born. (could it really be England’s year?)

With us now already a week into 2018, it’s time to look forward and see what the sporting calendar has in store for us. It promises to be a jam-packed 12 months!

Here are my Top 10 events for the year to come:

  • Winter Olympics & Paralympics, Pyeongchang 9th – 25th February & 9th – 18th March

Any event which includes a sport where four athletes race from the top of a mountain to the bottom as fast as they can is a winner in my book. Of course, Ski – Cross is just one of many exhilarating sports the Winter Olympics has on offer. Even the staunchest traditionist would struggle not to get excited at the prospect of an athlete hurling themselves downhill on what is effectively a dinner tray at up to 80 mph.

  • Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia 4th – 15th April

After a month of snow-related sports, you might be in need of some sun. So from South Korea, we move our attention to the Gold Coast. The 21st Commonwealth Games and what a fabulous location for them indeed. Will England’s male sprinters stand up and put on another gold winning performance like they did last year at the World Championships in London whilst representing Team GB? Can anyone get near Adam Peaty in the 100m Breaststroke? Heptathlete Katarina Johnson – Thompson competes in her first games and will be aiming for a podium finish.

  • The Masters, Augusta National, Georgia 5th – 8th April

You’ll have to be on your A-Game to make sure you don’t miss out on any sport in an action-packed April. Although the picturesque sight of the 13th at Augusta will be enough to convince you that you really don’t need that seven hours of sleep you had previously promised yourself…

  • FA Cup Final, Wembley 19th May

Always one of the standout weekends in the sporting calendar, the history of the Cup speaks for itself. This year there’s a twist. With the Royal Wedding scheduled for the same date, HRH Prince William will be relieved that his beloved Aston Villa were knocked out in the 3rd round of the competition.

  • FIFA World Cup, Russia 14th June – 15th July

The groups have been drawn, the fixture dates have been released, football’s biggest competition is starting to feel very close. Can Gareth Southgate’s men find the blend between attacking football and winning games that England fans so desperately crave?

  • Wimbledon 2nd – 15th July

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Wimbledon is certainly one of the classiest events in the sporting calendar. An event steeped in rich history and traditions. Homemade strawberries and cream accompanied with a Pimm’s is mandatory of course, but would you want it any other way?

Time will tell if Murray Mount will get to see their namesake at this year’s tournament but in Johanna Konta the Brits have a new fan favourite to get behind.

 

  • Women’s Hockey World Cup, London 21st July – 5th August

Not only is it the first time the women’s World Cup has been hosted in the UK, it’s also expected to be the biggest hockey event ever in the UK. The English team are currently ranked 2nd in the World behind the Netherlands. Can they build on the success from the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year perhaps?

  • T20 Blast Finals Day, Edgbaston 15th September

Three games of cricket sandwiched into one day. Finals Day guarantees to deliver roller-coaster finishes, monster hits, fancy dress and a good old sing along. You won’t be left disappointed.

  •  Ryder Cup, Le Golf National, Paris 28th – 30th September

A sport which is well known for its individual competitiveness, but when Europe take on the USA all bets are off. There is always a twist and a turn during a Ryder Cup weekend. Who can forget the Miracle at Medinah in 2012?

  • ICC Women’s World Twenty20, West Indies 3rd – 24th November

Can they do the double? With the World Cup ODI trophy in the bag from last year, England will be looking to return home from the West Indies with the World Twenty20 trophy too. In the meantime, let’s reminisce about one of the best sporting moments of 2017.

Could social media save english cricket?

For cricket fans the world over, 2005 evokes every superlative in the cliché book. The Greatest Ashes Series of all time, the series to end all series, theatre on an unparalleled scale in the history of cricket.

What a load of nonsense. The 2005 Ashes is the worst thing that ever happened to cricket. It’s the year that cursed a generation.

Ever since that fateful summer, my relationship with the gentleman’s game has been tumultuous, confused and epitomised by endless frustration. Simply, it was too much too soon. As an 11 year old I watched in awe as everyone I knew (yes, even the year 6 cool kids) experienced a sort of religious cricket awakening. Suddenly everyone was talking about the Ashes, everyone wanted to play cricket all day.

But in a sickening twist of fate, what followed that euphoric summer was a gaping chasm and the haunting realisation that everything would simply never be that perfect again.

14203098192_272e12b26a_o

A Natwest T20 Blast match between Hampshire and Glamorgan. Image courtesy of Warren Duffy on flickr

Cricket promptly disappeared from terrestrial TV to Sky, depriving the generation that followed mine of the ease of access to the sport that so captured the imagination that summer.

And now here we are, seemingly scratching around from week-to-week in search of a way to save the terribly British game of cricket, right here in Britain.

For those who watched that series, there were so many moments that were unforgettable:

Freddie Flintoff and that incendiary double-wicket over, Kevin Pietersen’s blonde Mohawk, Ian Bell waking drenched in sweat as Shane Warne haunted his nightmares, Simon Jones swinging the ball like it were Mark Ramprakash’s hips, Michael Clarke shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, Simon Katich shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, the King of Spain, Harmison’s slower ball, Woodworm bats – I’m not sure a single member of my colt team didn’t buy a Woodworm bat in 2005– that summer could not conceivably have been better.

image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

I don’t know what’s better, Freddie Flintoff’s smoulder, or that majestic Woodworm bat. image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

English Cricket has failed to replicate this ever since, and while the move away from Free-to-Air Television has doubtless stifled its exposure, it has been a broader failure to evolve how it speaks to younger audiences that has quickened the sport’s demise.

The Big Bash League has shown the positive impact that television coverage can have on the game – viewing figures and attendances have simultaneously soared in Australia – but there is a tendency to pin all the blame on TV and overlook other shortcomings. This is particularly pertinent with under 16’s in 2017 – they simply don’t consume news and information from the TV screen in the way we did a decade ago.

Cricket doesn’t hold the global appeal of football and doesn’t have a massively popular and engaging console series like FIFA or Football Manager to fall back on, so it needs to find more innovative ways to engage fans.

Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become the nerve centre which drives the news and sporting agenda for young people. If ever there was a time in which TV could be circumnavigated, it is in this age of social media. Other sports dominate these channels – Youtube has even made stars of vloggers who upload videos of them playing FIFA.

It’s incredible to think, but people playing football games in their bedroom pull in hundreds of thousands of viewers every day while many cricket counties struggle to fill out their grounds. Football is omnipresent, people know everything about it, and they are constantly consuming more information about it.

2435718974_6a535c0ba5_o

The Indian Premier League and Big Bash in Australia have made cricket modern and accessible. image courtesy of BubbleOnFire on flickr.

Conversely, cricket is conspicuous by its absence. There is a pervasive, largely unchallenged notion that cricket is a dry, boring sport, something that few would have asserted a decade ago. Has the game become more boring? On the contrary, the perfection of the T20 format has created the perfect bite-size entry point for new fans.

But what has changed is the way we talk about cricket. At its best, cricket ebbs and flows, it provides tension, shock and theatre. But large swathes of the British public seem to have forgotten this. We need to communicate with a modern audience in a language they understand to fight these misconceptions.

Social media is awash with influencers who are interested in sport, not just You tubers and Instagrammers, but what about musicians too? Actors? Young people are constantly engaging with content from these figures and are being influenced by what they see.

Greg James is just one example of the kind of ambassador the sport needs. He’s a fantastic advocate for the game and has landed himself a role presenting on BT Sport. More assets of a similar profile could have a tangible impact on exposing the game.

Why not get influencers involved with England’s players, filming themselves in the nets with Jason Roy or Jos Buttler learning the game? Going along to a match with Greg James? People are so disengaged from cricket in this country that there is a unique opportunity to educate people and rebrand the sport in the process. Cricket is tongue-in-cheek and accessible, it’s a game that lends itself to oddities and humour.

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

The Big Bash and Indian Premier League are proof that cricket holds mass appeal. I genuinely believe that if we get people watching and playing the game, some will not be able to help but fall in love with it.

The raw materials are there to make cricket a resounding success in England. A formidably talented generation of players are coming into their prime, including the fiery Ben Stokes – heir apparent to Flintoff, and the extraordinarily explosive Jos Buttler, renowned for swatting the ball dismissively out of the ground. The Women’s game in the UK is professional, and has made huge leaps in recent years.

The tools are there to catapult cricket back to the levels of 2005. Social media is just one avenue to achieve this, but one that can make a palpable difference if treated seriously and harnessed effectively by the powers running cricket.

 

Will the Relentless Commercialisation of Sport Continue?

The monetisation of sport in the UK is hitting heights in 2016 that were scarcely conceivable just a few years ago.

Football has been revolutionised by the astronomical money that the Premier League TV deals have brought in. Cricket could be next, following a vote by English cricket counties that paves the way to the creation of an eight-team T20 Franchise competition that would be far more geared towards generating revenue.

The statistics are eye-watering. The summer transfer window outlay for Premier League clubs was an astounding £1.165 billion – breaking all previous records. The TV deal in place for the Premier League is worth an astonishing £10.4 billion. Manchester United recently recorded revenue of £515.3 million for 2016 – up from £395.2 million in 2015.

It seems that everyone is a winner in the world of football. Manchester United have the spending power to splash however much they want on whoever they want. Paul Pogba was signed for an incredible £89m – a world record. Pogba’s own £290,000-a-week wages make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. Even his agent, the erratic Mino Raiola, pocketed £20m from the Pogba deal alone.

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

The money set to change hands in cricket is dwarfed by the Premier League, with each country promised a measly £1.5 million a head in TV money – though it’s incredible to think that so much money seems a pittance. Yet consider the model that the English Cricket Board is looking to replicate – that of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and you realise the potential it has.

Cricket is the national sport of India, franchises are owned by celebrities, stadia fill out week-on-week and the biggest and best players are paid very handsomely for their participation. For this reason, it is nigh on impossible for the UK to emulate the IPL from a popularity perspective, or indeed for the money it generates.

The 2016 edition of the IPL was valued at over $4bn – a 19% jump from the previous year. Indeed, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the 2015 edition of the IPL contributed $182m to the GDP of the Indian economy. This is all the more remarkable given that the IPL runs for just seven weeks.

The money available for players in endorsements is also spectacular – Indian legend MS Dhoni pulled in $23m from endorsements alone in 2016 – taking his overall yearly earnings to just shy of $30m.

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

If the English version of the Indian Premier League can generate anywhere near the level of interest that the IPL does (a tough task given that cricket is comparatively low down the pecking order in this country) the financial rewards for players are unprecedented. It’ll be tough, but if they get it right, sponsors will flock and with serious financial clout it could really take off.

What this all means is that there is now more riding on sport than ever before. Sport has been elevated from an entertainment and a past time to a full blown and very serious business enterprise.

Brands, marketers, influencers – everyone is going to continue to want a bigger slice of the Premier League pie and other sports are following suit.

Cricket will be particularly fascinating to observe, as the very format of the game is being changed to accommodate fans and create a more marketable brand. T20 is all about excitement and implementing a franchise system will also offer far more lucrative and enticing advertising, sponsorship and marketing opportunities. There is even talk of looking to use a major venue like the Olympic Stadium to host a match – imagine if it came off – making a success of such an event could have a seismic effect on the sport and catapult it back into the mainstream.olympic-stadium

And yet the flip side of this is the risk that is now attached to sporting ventures. There is so much money being poured into sport that a wrong slip can lead to disaster, we have seen examples of football clubs (think Leeds and Portsmouth) succumb to mismanagement of their finances. With more money changing hands than ever before, it is worth wondering considering how long it may be until such a situation arises again.

Reputations also matter more than ever before. With so much money invested in clubs and players, brands and sponsors want to know that their investment is getting the respect and return they feel it deserves. The margin for error is miniscule and the potential ramifications of any mistake are substantial.

There is more at stake for sporting brands than ever before, but what this brings is opportunity. Manchester United are evidence of how a brand alone can now pull in extraordinary revenue, regardless of on-pitch achievements. Whether it is sustainable or not in the longer term, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

She-FA: Why you should now invest in women’s football

As you’ve probably heard, FIFA is in a bit of a state. However, amid the corruption and scandals, there has been one gem of positive news to emerge in the past few days, women teams will be included in FIFA 16!

This autumn, gamers will be able to play as 12 international female teams. This is just the beginning too with a wide collection of player’s stats being collated as we speak. Domestic leagues are not far away.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

The first question on many people’s lips is why has this taken so long? One simple answer would be to suggest the gross institutionalised misogynism at FIFA and other national governing bodies.  This would be fairly accurate, considering FIFA’s soon to be dethroned president Sepp Blatter has suggested women’s football would be more popular if they wore shorter skirts.

Even in the UK, it’s not been too long since Andy Gray’s dismissal for making offside jokes at the expense of a female official. At first glance, it would be easy to suggest the sport will only succeed once the sport is taken seriously and this isn’t untrue. The first step is to give women every opportunity that the male version has and that’s where the problem has arisen.

The sport at present fails to draw the crowds of men’s matches. This results in a lack of sponsorship, TV rights and funding. Without the funding, the majority of female footballers can only ever become semi-pro and thus cannot reach their potential. In perspective, most conference teams (5th Division) are fully professional. Without this funding, awareness of the sport cannot be raised and therefore women will continue to struggle to balance a full-time job with their footballing career.

Although it’s early stages, the FIFA inclusion has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to the women’s football. People have downplayed how significant the addition is, which is a mistake. At present, FIFA is one of biggest sport franchises on the planet, shifting 2.6 million copies in the UK last year alone. These gamers are ready-made football fans, no conversion from another sport needed. All they need is a push the right direction. With the introduction of just a few teams, each team will gain a colossal boost in awareness from the regular gamers. Once they find favourite players amongst the teams (and they will), the demand for television rights and match tickets are certain to rocket. The time is now to invest.

The sport has already gone a long way in the past few years. Since their impressive Olympic performances the women’s team, led by Manchester City’s captain Steph Houghton, the sport has never been more popular. With additional exposure, the brand of women’s football is set to increase phenomenally, with the potential to grow even more when the domestic leagues are introduced.

More of our football stars should have media training

Reputation PR football The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation on Flickr’

Super Bowl XLVIII will soon be here, following all the build-up, showmanship and usual interest in the half-time show.

This year’s match-up is between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, and it is billed thus: Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object.

The Broncos has the best offence in the NFL, the Seahawks the most brutish defence. For those who enjoy American Football, it should be utterly compelling.

If you have ever been in the US when the Super Bowl is on, you ‘ll know it is a fantastic event, even just to watch on TV while you’re there.

I was once lucky enough to be in the US in the weeks prior to the big game and caught a lot of the build-up.

What stuck in my mind was not so much the fantastic game, but a performance I saw the New England Patriot’s star Quarter Back Tom Brady give.

Brilliant Brady

The brilliant Brady predictably ended up being named the MVP in the game as his Patriot’s narrowly triumphed over the Carolina Panthers (it was the Super Bowl also known for Justin Timberlake being party to Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction in the half-time show).  Brady has been a force in American Football and is one of only two QBs to lead their teams to five Super Bowls (the other being John Elway).

But it wasn’t his performance in the game to which I am referring, but a press conference he gave in the days before.

I remember watching the TV as he sat on a top table, facing a pack of sports journalists, not only from around the USA but the world.

Brady sat there alone, no press officer or PR man in sight (unlike the army of aides Premier League stars have on hand when they are facing the media).

Tom brady The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of WEBN-TV on Flickr’

Flying solo, he handled question after question with aplomb. He engaged in tactical discussion, faced the tough questions head-on, spoke his mind and was able to share light-hearted moments with the media.

It was nothing short of fantastic.

When I compare that to the way our footballers deal with the media, it really puts us to shame. Not just the players but as a nation.

Brady’s chat was cliché free, comfortable, and more importantly, confident. Most footballers stumble over their words with sentences littered with well-known but forever dull football parlance. Less a game of two-halves, more a tale of two very different cultures.

For a more in-depth look at how the NFL differs in the way it treats the media and is actually written into contracts, you can read this excellent Football Writers’ Association blog here.

Media Obligations

The thought of players being obliged to speak to the media is outlandish here in the UK. Sure, there are obligations which come with TV rights etc, but the system in the States is far superior, certainly from a fans’ point of view.

Some would point to the fact that Americans, as a people, are just far better than we Brits when it comes to talking. That is no slight on either us or them.

The FWA blog rightly points out the college system in the US. Not only does this expose players to the media, but while they are learning their sporting trade, they are continuing with an education.

Most football players in the UK are plucked from school as teenagers before signing pro forms when they are 17 or 18.

Media Training

NFL Logo, Reputation PR The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of C_osett on Flickr’

But when it comes to sports stars, the fact that the NFL players are media trained is a huge factor.

It means they are equally comfortable in front of a camera or a reporters’ Dictaphone. They can handle most things which are thrown at them.

Fans might say they do not want their heroes coming across as too polished as it means they are not being themselves. In fact, one Premier League club’s media head honcho once told me that he didn’t media train his club’s players because they preferred them to give ‘organic’ interviews.

I beg to differ. Media training actually helps those who receive it – be it a top football player, a company CEO or a charity campaigner – be themselves. It gives them the tools to be confident enough to make their point naturally, to not stumble over words, to take a positive role in interviews rather than being lead through them. Interviewees are not being themselves and are certainly not communicating properly when they are getting in a nervous muddle.

It is true that some players are naturally better than others at speaking to the media. Some already have an eye on a job in the media after they finish playing and Gary Neville and Lee Dixon, in particular, have shown how to take punditry to the next level.  David Beckham’s whole image improved at around the same time he got better at handling interviews.

Making comparisons with a super-star like Tom Brady is tough on anyone, but there has to be a yardstick.

Often with the media, you get one chance to shine.

Leaving dealing with TV, magazines and newspapers to chance really isn’t an option.  A footballers’ coaching should also include media training.

 

 

Great session, great coaching and a few good stories from Glenn Hoddle

FTBpro and Glenn Hoddle

We train with former England manager Glenn Hoddle.

It’s not often that you are given the chance to be coached by a former England manager, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when I visited the Soccerdome in London to take part in a coaching session organised by The PHA Group client FTBPro.

30 writers from the FTBPro website- the largest fan-generated media platform in global football – won a competition to be part of a training session with Glenn Hoddle and his team of England youth coaches. And thanks to a very kind boss I was also invited to take part!

We began the day with a light warm up and then we were split into four groups. After playing a few games against each other, which involved dribbling and passing between cones, we progressed into some small sided games under the watchful eye of Glenn Hoddle himself.

Glenn stopped us in our tracks a couple of times to give some advice but on the whole, he let us play as we wanted. It took me a while to get into the game but after a few decent touches and a couple of off the ball runs he acknowledged me and said he could tell that I had played at a good level. It’s not every day you receive praise from a former England manager!

Not that it matters too much but we lost the first game 2-1, drew the second 2-2 and in the third and final game we drew 1-1.

We finished off with some shooting from outside the 18-yard box. We were split into three groups, one group on the outside left of the area, one group on the outside right and one in the middle. I was in the middle group. We were told that we had to be on the move when striking the ball so either a teammate would have to set it up for you or you could take a touch out of your feet and hit it.

I happened to have the ball at my feet and Glenn Hoddle was standing with his back to goal on the penalty spot. So I took my chance and fizzed the ball into him and shouted left, luckily he was switched on and he set the ball back to me and I curled a shot just over the bar. It would have been better if it had gone in but nevertheless I can still say that I played a one-two with a man who won 53 England caps and managed his country!

Out of four shots, three hit the target and I scored one which, for a fullback, are pretty good statistics.

We then all had the chance to have our picture taken with Glenn and as I approached him and shook his hand he asked me who I played for. I answered that I played for Royston Town FC and, as it turns out, Glenn is actually good friends with a few of the coaches at the club…..hopefully he’ll put in a good word for me!

Glenn Hoddle and Dan, The PHA Group

After some lunch, we finished with a Q and A session with Glenn. He was more than happy to share stories with us about his career and give us some insight into how he thinks England will perform at this summer’s World Cup:

“A European team has never won the World Cup in South America so the most important thing for England this time around is to give the younger players as much experience as possible and the only way to do that is to go as far as they can in the tournament.

“The best player I ever played against was Maradona. When you look at the way he singlehandedly helped Argentina win the World Cup in 1986, for me I hold him in higher regard than Messi or Ronaldo.

“The best goal I ever scored was against Manchester United in 1979. It’s the goal that gave me the best feeling”.  (That was the goal that produced the iconic image, many will remember, of Glenn Hoddle floating in the air as he connected with a scissor kick volley to score).

“Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince and a pint of Guinness” he said, discussing England’s heroic draw with Italy in 1997 to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.

On modern football coaching styles, he was asked… Mourinho’s style of play or Guardiola’s? “I prefer my own” he said.

Overall it was a pleasure to meet Glenn Hoddle and it’s obvious that he still lives and breathes football. He certainly still has a lot to offer the game and I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see him standing in the dugout again.

 

To find out more about FTBpro visit www.ftbpro.com or on Twitter @FTBpro

We chat to… Fabrice Muamba

This month, we spoke to client Fabrice Muamba on life after football and spending time with his family…

How great an experience was captaining England at U-21 level?

I came to England as an 11-year-old boy from the Congo, so leading the country which took me in was an incredibly proud moment for me. We had a very good side, full of players playing in the Premier League and standing there with them, wearing the armband, was amazing. When I first played for the U21 squad, I made sure I learnt every word of the national anthem and when I stepped onto the pitch, I hope people say I always gave my all.

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

How are you finding life off the pitch?

Life is very different – but it is fantastic. Obviously, I miss playing football but I now have the opportunity to do so many different things. This has included working in the media – I’m off to Africa soon to film for a new football TV show – writing a book, filming a documentary, and learning about the off-pitch side to football. Most importantly, I am able to cherish the time I spend with my wife and children.

Congratulations on the birth of your second son, Matthew.  What is your favourite part of fatherhood?

My children are my greatest ever achievement. It is simply the most wonderful thing you can imagine. Being a dad to two boys will keep me busy and I look forward to the time when we can all do things together like play football in the park and things like that.

What does the future hold for you?

The future isn’t written yet and it is up to me to shape it. I have been given a wonderful opportunity and I intend to grab it. There will be ups and downs along the way but I am more than prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of an era; the start of a new beginning. Are Bayern Munich about to dominate European football?

Are Bayern Munich about to dominate European football?

Barcelona’s humiliating defeat in the Champions League semi-final a few weeks ago to Bayern Munich, coupled with Real Madrid’s exit to Bourissa Dortmund, told us a lot about the future of European football and what we can expect to see over the next few years. The golden era of Spanish football, which Barcelona created, looks like it could be coming to an end and with it, Europe is on the verge of a change of power. Step forward German football.

Not since Bayern Munich won the trophy in 2001 (and before that, Dortmund in 1997) has a German side tasted success in Europe’s premier competition. On 25th May at Wembley stadium, the long wait for a German winner will come to an end and a new champion will be crowned under the famous arch.

Bayern Munich will go into the game as slight favourites, given their recent form in both the Champions League and in the Bundesliga, where they have already wrapped up the title and hold a massive lead over second-placed Dortmund. The two teams drew 1-1 at the weekend to give little away ahead of the showpiece final in two weeks’ time.

They have been runners-up in two of the last three years of the Champions League, underlining just how competitive they remain and this year I expect them to finally get their hands on the Champions League trophy…(not that I was disappointed last year being a Chelsea fan!)

So where does this leave Spanish football?

Barcelona were completely outplayed and outclassed over the two legs against Bayern Munich and without Messi, they looked void of ideas. Xaxi, Iniesta and Villa were largely ineffective and without a recognised number nine they struggled to create a clear-cut chance in 180 minutes of football. Tito Vilanova has been absent through illness and without him they have consistently lacked identity, something that Bayern Munich are set to gain in abundance with the arrival of former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (and something you have to think was on the minds of some of the Barca players over the course of the two legs).

I’m not saying it’s the end for Barcelona or the tiki-taka football we have become accustomed to watching over the last few years but the way Barcelona play requires tempo, energy and enthusiasm. Now the team is starting to age, with the likes of Xavi, Puyol and Alves becoming less effective. Against a younger, more efficient team like Bayern who know how to attack but also defend with masterful authority and leadership… I’m afraid there was only ever going to be one winner.

There is no getting away from the fact that German football is increasingly on the rise, both in the standard of play and in the support it is receiving all over the world. But write Barcelona off at your peril. They are still a world class team and will have the capacity to attract big name players in the summer in their quest to become the greatest again.

Bayern are on the crest of a wave at the moment and their superiority should shine through against Dortmund and see them triumph to finally become the champions of Europe again.

 

Fan’s fearing FIFA World Cup in Brazil?

 

ea_sports_2104_fifa_world_cup

With legends like Ronaldo and Pelé at the country’s disposal, it is difficult to argue against Brazil’s footballing credentials when they were awarded the chance to host the biggest football tournament in the world back in 2007.

But even back then concerns were being voiced about the organisation of a tournament in a less developed country, and these issues continue to pervade the news headlines today, with just over a year before the tournament commences.

Some are now questioning, perhaps somewhat unfairly, whether the host country and its local organising committees across the nation are ready to welcome the world of football to their doorsteps in 2014.

Here, we assess some of the biggest fears being addressed in the press today:

Crime and Violence

Rio’s long-standing reputation for violent crime continues to bolster and the grizzly tales of gun crime show no sign of being silenced as the tournament approaches.

With security concerns being raised so early on, Brazil made huge pledges and promises to clean up its act and make the streets a safer place to be. However, there are now suggestions that a paramilitary police campaign to regain control of the infamous ‘favela slums’ that lie on the outskirts of Rio, has actually just pushed the problem out of mainline sight.

Claims that the scheme has improved safety levels have been crushed by many, who suggest that the benefit is only felt by the cities wealthiest suburbs.  Despite these measures being taken, unfortunately, it is still the case that murder and armed robbery statistics remain at levels that would be considered alarming in Europe. Indeed, recently there were reports that two Brazilian football supporters were shot by two opposing football fans in the northeast of Brazil near the Arena Castelao World Cup stadium in Fortaleza.

Reports such as these continue to feature in the press around the world, making security the prime concern for visitors to Brazil next year. However, interestingly, the majority of concerns voiced by the press are being attributed to the safety of our England football stars – after claims that the Copacabana team base in Brazil is known as “Murder Central” – despite the fact that they will have armed protection with them at all times. In addition, the public have been warned that even in this beautiful tourist area with a heavy police presence, theft is not uncommon.

Infrastructure

The larger cities in Brazil have an infrastructure to support millions of inhabitants on a day to day basis as well as thousands of cultural tourists from around the world. However, FIFA has, on more than one occasion, expressed alarm about repeated delays in readying the football venues such as the 71,000 seat Brasilia stadium, which is still not complete today because of problems in preparing the pitch, despite it being a key stadium for the Confederations Cup in June. The Brazil Football Confederation and the local organising committees continue to reassure the governing bodies and the public that they will be ready in time…..only time will tell.

Interestingly enough, however, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, has claimed that a certain part of Brazil’s infrastructure has made planning a World Cup in the South-American country an easier feat than in another country. He has claimed that the political infrastructure in Brazil – with a lesser sense of democracy, meaning there are various levels of government – makes the organisation of the tournament a simpler task.

Gang Culture

In recent years, officials in Rio have been tackling gang-related crimes including drugs and prostitution. They claim to have made huge steps in the right direction thanks to their strategy of breaking up the hillside “favela slums”, which are ruled by criminal gangs (as mentioned previously). However, just this year a horrendous case of gang rape came to light where an American student was lured inside a public transit van in the area, which has now turned attention towards the country’s growing sexual assault problem. Statistics, in fact, show that counts of rapes have risen 150% since 2009 in the region. The reigniting of this safety concern has lead to increased talk about the safety of hundreds of thousands of fans travelling to the beautiful country next year and questions about whether local officials will be able to guarantee public safety.

There have also been concerns about the presence of organised crime due to the strong gang culture across Brazil. Issues such as the falsification of tickets, as well as match-fixing and bribery have been raised on numerous occasions.

As the Confederations Cup – supposedly a practice run for the FIFA World Cup – looms this year, all of the above concerns remain. The world is hoping that FIFA will work with organising committees across Brazil to smooth out the remaining issues in order to put on the greatest showcase of footballing talent in one of the most culturally diverse tourist destinations in the world.

The tournament should be a celebration of culture and sport with visitors – from officials to politicians to footballers and the fans –  all embracing the country’s culture and helping to create a lasting legacy following on from the event.

They think it’s all over…Well, not exactly.

On a night filled with controversy, accusation, and a lack of common sense, it would appear far too easy to write off the events that took place on that Tuesday evening as simply a night to forget for English International football.

On one hand, Adrian Chiles and the rest of the commentary team at ITV pondered in amusement at the events unfolding before them as torrential rain in Warsaw caused the game to be initially delayed, and then cancelled even though the stadium had a roof. Whilst in Serbia, England’s Under 21’s progressed into Euro 2013 in the midst of chaotic scenes after the final whistle. Racism, violence and a red card for England’s Danny Rose for reacting to taunts from the fans, cast a shadow over England’s 2-0 aggregate win and highlighted the problems that still exist within world football.

Image Courtesy of UCLan Students' Union, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of UCLan Students’ Union, flickr.com

One of a number of questions racing through the media this Wednesday morning was simple. How did a stadium with a roof get to the stage where the game had to be called off due to rain? It was only after the pitch became unplayable that officials began to question why the roof was not closed to start with. By that point, it was too late and the game was never going to take place.  One would imagine that nothing else could go wrong that night. However, those who thought that would be proved wrong.

After scoring a winning goal in the dying embers of the qualifying tournament for the Euro championships in 2013, English football was given a fearful reminder of the state of its own game back in the 1980’s and how far it has come since that period. Shocking images of pitch invasions, offensive chanting and Serbian players confronting England’s players have arguably shown the world that there is still crucial work to be done in addressing the recurrent problem of racism and violence in world football.

Whilst both of these incidents were an embarrassment to international football, the various PR implications are vast. Support for international football is already experiencing a slump, with average home crowds at Wembley down, and the media choosing to paint the senior team in an unflattering way in light of their disappointing performances in previous years. It will now be up to the FA to reach out to the football community alongside UEFA and FIFA and find a way to resolve the recurrence of racism in football as well as problems with managing and protecting future fixtures from the comical scenes witnessed in Warsaw. It would also seem that Crisis PR and reputation management will almost certainly be explored by both the Polish and Serbian FA to address what has happened and to rebuild their global image.

Time and time again the English FA and other football governing bodies, in particular FIFA, have looked to have been strained.  However, it would seem that this time PR surrounding English football will remain positive, with English international football quite rightly the victim in these two incidents.

In contrast, football’s governing bodies FIFA and UEFA will need the very best PR consultancy to improve their bruised public and media image. They will also need to be seen to take significant steps to ensure that what was witnessed on Tuesday evening in Serbia and Poland will not happen again.