The Brazil 2014 World Cup is the first one fully captured, consumed, and communicated through Twitter, just as the Sochi Games earlier this year were the first Twitter Olympics. While the social media tool was around for the tournament’s previous South Africa iteration, it was not as widely used as it is today. The power of Twitter is considerable and it provides unparalleled access to people, known and unknown, and beyond (see the many Twitter accounts of Ben Kerry: @DogDiplomat and @DiploMutt).
I’m following the Twitter accounts of this summer’s Les Bleus, players tasked with the Herculean effort of restoring the image (and pride) of the nation through success in Brazil. And it is fascinating material.
Of the 23-man roster, 16 have officially verified accounts and for quality control purposes, these are the Twitter feeds I observe. A few players have active accounts that claim to be official and seem authentic, but do not have the little blue emblem of verification. (An aside to Mathieu Valbuena: if @MV8Officiel really is your account, please have it verified so the football scholars of the world can consult it for their viewing pleasure.)
A few players were early Tweeters. In January 2011, Bacary Sagna was the first one on this summer’s team to join. The majority of the squad, however, joined in several clusters: just prior to the Euro 2012, during Les Bleus’ World Cup qualifying campaign, and in the weeks before heading to Brazil.
There is a range in terms of how often the players post to their accounts. Some, such as Rio Mavuba, have hundreds of posts but joined early, while others such as Antoine Griezmann post very often and have hundreds of Tweets in their archives, despite joining more recently.
Several players are very Twitter savvy, and their timelines document the process they’ve gone through to reach this stage, such as Paul Pogba, Mavuba, and Olivier Giroud. Others are learning as they become more accustomed to and comfortable with the medium. And a few prove that they are just like us: Sagna did not post anything between July 29, 2013 and May 24, 2014 because he could not remember his password and was locked out (secretly one of my favorite findings!).
Players strongly identify with the #EDF (équipe nationale de France) and reinforce pride in representing and playing for France in their posts. Such Tweets were common surrounding Les Bleus’ World Cup qualifying games in 2013, the pre-Brazil tune-up matches this spring, and, of course, during the tournament itself. This is an important consideration, given the accusations hurled at Les Bleus’ players following the team’s meltdown in South Africa.
Players' recent Tweets also heavily emphasize team camaraderie. Many players posted team photographs from the plane en route to Brazil, depicting everyone together in a team huddle facing the camera. Several have posted snapshots from training sessions, posing with one or more teammates, while others include “downtime” images, such as eating together. This sense of camaraderie is also intriguing, as it emphasizes an “everyone together” quality that seemed to be non-existent to many observers in 2010.
And then there are the many “thumbs up” and “V for Victory” poses of Karim Benzema.
It is, of course, difficult to properly assess how players portray themselves and their sentiments by relying solely upon Twitter feeds for there are several unknown variables. For example, we do not know who actually runs these accounts. Many players (and I suspect, most) may actually post directly, but some feeds may be maintained by a publicist, agent, or a PR guru provided by their professional club. Some may followed the example of Pogba, who in May surrendered his account to his family to maintain for the duration of the tournament, allowing him to focus on football.
Another unknown factor is whether the French Football Federation provides approved World Cup-relevant material directly to players for their accounts (or whoever posts for them). This possibility makes it difficult to assess whether players’ Tweets are genuinely organic endeavors or canned responses designed to overturn the massive public image problem team members encountered four years ago.
With these caveats in mind, it appears to the outside world that Les Bleus are enjoying themselves and have put the past behind them. The images and comments convey a sense of optimism, and it will be interesting to follow these gentlemen as they continue their path through Brazil.
Dear Washington, D.C. readers: At 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 21, Krasnoff will moderate "Let's Talk Les Bleus: A World Cup Discussion" at the Alliance Française. Come join the conversation!