England engaging fans with new image
VOLGOGRAD, England (AP):
Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.
For once, the players cannot be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England's preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.
"They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal," supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia this afternoon. "They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That's been the problem in the past. There's more of a togetherness."
A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: "Nice to see your home fans booing you, that's what loyal support is."
That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association's approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.
"We've done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case," captain Harry Kane said yesterday. "It's important while we have free time to try to let the fans know what we are up to."
The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable, but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.
"That connection with the supporters is really important," coach Gareth Southgate said. "There have been perceptions about our players for a long time ... so it's been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality."