With Italia ’90, the World Cup returned to a previous host country for the first time. Three-times winners Italy felt they had a fourth title in their sights (it wouldn’t happen for another 26 years) and they presented this gladiatorial image – the Coliseum, symbol of a glorious past with the lines of a football field laid out instead of the blood and sand of the arena.
It was a challenge to all-comers to enter and face the gladiators of a new Roman Footballing Empire. It was an era when Italian club football reigned supreme in Europe (albeit with the best players from around the world) and Italy sought to extend that domination to the international game. Was anyone truly surprised when the Hunnish horde came down across the Alps and crushed any such pretensions? No, I thought not. This goal pretty much says everything about German power, speed and dominance. Attila would have been proud.
And while we’re speaking of power, you’d think that when it came time for the World’s Only Superpower (trademark rightist and/or lazy writers everywhere circa the nineties) to host the World Greatest Sporting Event, they would have co-opted the mADmen of Madison Ave. to fashion a better image than “the left over from last 4th of July” graphic here. I guess for the defence you can say it marked a coming out party for the US and full entry into the association football world, so a party poster is appropriate.
But really, US policymakers take note- if the United States wants to win friends in the world, beating Germany, England and France on the way to losing graciously in a World Cup final to say, the Ivory Coast, would go a hell of a lot further than toppling Saddaam bloody Hussein. Mind you, politicians have been trying to co-opt national teams to polish their image for decades and it rarely works.
It has to happen naturally. So when a multi-ethnic, diverse group of players pulled on the French shirt and strode to victory in ’98 they surprised and shocked an ethnically, racially and religiously divided country. At the start of the tournament the French had been positively indifferent to the games being played in their midst – old France prefers rugby – and I think that is reflected in this tossed off poster from France ’98.
But an underclass of immigrants saw themselves in the faces of the first generation Arabs, Armenians and North Africans that made up the French team and by the final they were all French. Witness then President Chirac waving his Zidane jersey for all to see.
Whole new worlds are now opening up for soccer – the biggest game in Asia inevitably held it’s showcase event on that continent – the Japan/South Korea poster was drawn like an old Asian watercolor but make no mistake FIFA was flexing it’s marketing muscles in new modern ways among the fastest growning markets in the world.
Nor did FIFA neglect it’s traditional heartland bringing the tournament to Germany in 2006. But the future is Africa and Asia – at least marketing wise, even if the winners in South Africa will come from the European or South American superpowers. Some things aren’t going to change any day soon.