Either they have it or they don’t.
Living Colour’s guitarist Vernon Reid described their 1988 anthem this way (as documented on Wikipedia): “’Cult of Personality’ was about celebrity, but on a political level. It asked what made us follow these individuals who were larger than life yet still human beings.”
And unless we are stereotyping… like those rote, almost robotic German National Teams (oops)… every team, national team or club, forges, or strives to forge, an identity. Whither the U.S. National Team? Yah, they are a hot topic back in the comments of the announcement of “In the Box” already… What is this team’s personality? Or what will it be under Gregg Berhalter? It’s a big year coming fast.
Back in 2002, the US National Team exhibited a kind of naïve brashness, a not-quite-sure-what-we-are-doing-here-but-we-screw-it-lets-play punctuated by a bevy of speed and talent and determination embodied by DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis, and Brian McBride and more. That carried them to the World Cup quarterfinals. It nearly got them a semifinal after a thrilling, tooth-to-tooth battle with the Germans.
Sporting Kansas City has forged a club personality of team first, possession-based, fly-forward-attack-by-committee identity on the field, and a community focused identity off the field through many initiatives. The club’s identity, or personality, is solid and apparent.
But what of the individual players that not only form bonds with the fanbase, but electrify the on-field play and (let’s be honest here) provide the antics that attract fringe fans and can make marketing a team pretty simple?
Roger Espinoza and Johnny Russell are the first cult of personality players that come to mind. Espinoza, after early years of “red card Roger,” has grown into the model player on and off the field while maintaining passion in his play. Russell, we all know his fire. On the fringe here are 18-year-old Gianluca Busio and 2nd-year Sporting player Gadi Kinda after a dynamic and promising breakout season for Busio and a first season of the same for Kinda. Add in target forward Alan Pulido, assuming we see much more of him this season.
But, to me at least, that’s where the mostly individual charisma ends for now. Maybe French newcomers Remi Walter and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin can bring in-match charisma to bring fans to their feet, make them root for them every play, and win their hearts.
I long for the 2012-2013 sides with the bevy of personality and talent those sides brought. Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, CJ Sapong, Aurelien Collin, Jimmy Nielsen, Espinoza, Kei Kamara. The talent. The celebrations. The confidence. The elation. The relentlessness. The fun. The results. The near in-your-faceness. A perfect mix.
Variety is the spice of life… personality (along with dynamic play, of course) is the spice of any sport that builds fans and entertains and raises the passionate fandom of those already locked in.
As a coach, I (and my cohorts) always encouraged players to express themselves on the field. That’s why they call it play. It’s the play that frees.
What are your thoughts? Will this 2021 Sporting Kansas City squad:
“… know [our] anger
know [our] dreams
[Be] everything [we] want to be
…the Cult of Personality”?