In Manchester United’s Champions League game against last year’s semi-finalists RB Leipzig, Marcus Rashford came off the bench with his team holding on to a 1-0 lead. 16 minutes later the striker completed his hat trick to make it 4-0.
But Rashford’s biggest achievement that day came off the pitch. A petition he set up to end child food poverty surpassed 1 million signatures. His campaign on the issue led to a dramatic second u-turn from the UK government, more than £300 million promised to help feed over 1 million children and an MBE from the Queen.
What the 23-year-old has demonstrated is the enormous positive impact players can have away from the pitch. Whilst not every player can expect to achieve the same incredible feats, they can all make a significant difference to the issues that matter to them. Unfortunately, many players don’t have the confidence or expertise to fully utilise their power.
We will look at five characteristics of Rashford’s campaign that can be used by any player at any level to bring about change on important issues.
This is a non-negotiable. If what you are asking for does not align with your core values and something you genuinely believe in then you are destined to fail. Rashford had grown up on free school meals, food banks and soup kitchens, so he really cared about what was happening. When that is the case he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t speak out on subjects such as during the Black Lives Matter protests when he shared a powerful statement against racism.
It is important to develop your knowledge, particularly on the topics that interest you so you know where and how you can have the biggest impact. Rashford made sure he built a well-rounded understanding of the situation by reading charity and government reports as well as speaking with relevant organisations and the families affected to get their opinions.
As an issue close to Rashford’s heart, it must have been tempting to post an impulsive reaction on social media targeting those he considered not doing enough. However, his message was much more compelling through being measured, focusing on the problem and presenting solutions.
He was following the advice of the marketing and communications expert that looks after his off-the-field activities. Players are potentially very powerful influencers but it needs a strategic approach to building their personal brand and then utilising that to express what they want to say in the most effective way.
The young striker amplified his message by working with others. He formed a “child food poverty taskforce” which included charities, supermarkets and food companies to increase the pressure to implement the recommendations he’d read about in a report. When the government refused to provide meals for children whilst they were off school he managed to get cafés, restaurants and councils across the country to step in to fill the void through offering free meals to those in need. With all this support behind him, he created something much more powerful.
The UK government twice rejected Rashford’s requests, once through a vote in parliament, but he did not give up, and they eventually felt pressured into reversing their decisions. He even received criticism for what he was doing but this did not stop him. And despite all he has achieved in such a short time and at such a young age he wants to do more. As well as continuing the fight against child food poverty, he recently announced a book club to improve child literacy.
Players are sometimes uncertain how to have success off-the field but Rashford has demonstrated that, with the right approach, they can exceed their own expectations. Look at those five characteristics that were highlighted as the key to his campaign’s effectiveness again and you will see they are all areas footballers naturally excel at.
They shouldn’t be afraid that getting involved in these activities could have a negative effect on their on-the-pitch performance. It is actually likely to enhance it. It is easy for players to get caught up in the football bubble and define their whole identity around being a footballer which can lead to many problems.
Having another dimension to their lives can offer new perspectives, prevent their self-worth from being dependent on football and better equip them to deal with the setbacks that are inevitable during a playing career. As well as promoting better performance on the pitch, this increases their attractiveness to commercial partners.
With the right advice and support, players can have a powerful voice. Whether that be with issues in football such as a lack of diversity or the limited opportunities for former players in executive roles, or tackling problems in wider society that affect our communities.
Here at Player4Player, we help players with their off the pitch activities and are ready to speak with anyone that wants to understand how they can leave a positive legacy in the world around them.