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How does the performance of a national football team impact on the external perception of a nation brand? – part 5

This post is part of a series about “How does the performance of a national football team impact on the external perception of a nation brand?” You can find the previous 4 posts here:

The World Cup – the most important stage

Performance impact on nation brands

Victory or Style – differing degrees of importance

The individual is the strongest ambassador for a nation brand

A World Cup is always a great opportunity to study the self image as well as the external perceptions of nations. The analysis of the research even goes step further….


Football as the mirror of a society’s structure


The structure of a society is reflected in the football style: The weaker the structure, stability and organisation of a society, the less likely they are to have a successful national football team. In parts of Africa, for example, the anarchy that exists in the set up and in the society has such an impact on the national football team’s performance on the pitch and that it infringes on any chance of success. This also has a negative impact on the external perception, doubly regrettable as a good performance by a national football team leads to very positive benefits for the country.

Traditional nation states as the cradle of success

Success and style of football reflects the structure and organisation of society – the citizens are the brand, they define the brand and only if voluntary participation is given will the brand be authentic and reach its full potential. Another critical building block is the political leadership that builds stable structures and outlines the vision thus enabling nations to compete regularly and successfully – be it on or off the pitch. The consistent performance is what establishes the perception and therefore the reputation of a nation and once established, change is not easily forth-coming. The impact on the external perceptions of a nation brand will be influenced by many different activities, yet the Football World Cup has the highest impact of re-affirming old perceptions or beginning the process of gradual towards a new external perception.

The mirroring of a nation’s socio-political and psychological structure on the football pitch consequently leads to the result that established traditional modern nation states will be the most successful on the pitch. Recently established nation states don’t have the solid structures needed for success yet. And postmodern states are in danger of losing their structure as heterogeneity grows and potentially eradicate their competition based selection and thinking due to egalitarian influences, which again has a negative influence on the performance on the football field.

(Click here for a link explaining the different stage of developments for states)

A postmodern state can only continue to be successful if it manages to integrate foreign born talent. In the European Cup 1996 the Dutch team imploded due to cultural difference between ethnic groups within the team. The current German team, however, does seem to have a strong and consistent group, even though they include players from Turkish, Polish and Tunisian ancestry. So a state can suddenly increase his talent pool through immigration.

The other interesting dynamic is about coaching staff. It seems to help a postmodern state (as well as recently established nations) to employ a manager with a traditional nation state approach, whereby employing a manager who uses a postmodern approach often fails, interestingly, at all levels three levels – be it recently established, traditional or postmodern.  Just think about the difference between Erickson and Capello, Klinsman’s disconnect at Bayern Munich, etc – it will be interesting how Erickson fairs with Ivory Coast.

This finding also informs the debate about nurture versus nature: While a certain skill level needs to be in existence, it’s only with coaching, good organisation and a stable structure that a nation can become a successful footballing nation.

Ways of building a successful football culture

Building a successful football culture is very beneficial for a nation brand. Brazil is a good example: as a great deal of its reputation is founded on the national football team and its player. The team instils pride into the Brazilian citizens and supports social cohesion, while creating a very positive external perception. Any development of this scale takes time, a consistent effort, knowledge and a degree of general education – as any successful nation branding activity.

There are other ways of impacting the external perception of a nation brand via football. One would be the development of individual players onto a level that is good enough to play in European club football as the nation brand is heavily influenced by individuals.  One risk of this strategy would be that after all of this investment the outstanding individual should decide to change his official nationality to be able to play in the World Cup should his nation’s team not be strong enough to qualify. Another way would be for nations that want to improve the reputation of their brand to build a club that can compete and be successful at the highest level and therefore gain reputation which can be transferred to the nation brand itself. The rational is the same as that of country of brand origin, only potentially quicker to realise as it is smaller and possesses less heterogeneity than a nation brand itself.

This post focused on the impact of society on the performance of a national football team. The next post will investigate the link between internal and external perception. It’ll be published on Friday, 19th of June, when England and Germany both play their second game in this World Cup.

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