With great power comes uncensored responsibility: does a Twitter account now go hand in hand with football?
Just like the inevitability of diving or the certainty of a red card for any form of two footed tackle, the use of social networking has become a natural part of modern football’s natural evolution over the past few years. It is showcased as a means in which players and managers alike can express opinions online and connect with fans worldwide. However, therein lays the essence of the danger, with anything as little as a misspelt word to a careless comment suddenly creating a cyber snowball that becomes shared amongst the rabid masses. With this in mind, social networking seems to be the primary fuel behind media stories, with controversial opinions and comments only a mouse click away.
But what impact has the medium made on the sport? Is it, like the plague of diving that has swept through the continent and around the globe, something we wish could be firmly eradicated? Do we wish we could return to a better, simpler time? Or does the rise in popularity represent football moving into a revolutionary era – that should be here to stay?
Picture it now: you’re sitting down and watching your team endure a humiliating defeat in front of a universal audience. A player gets dragged off the field by his manager in a symbolic gesture of dissatisfaction. Shortly afterwards, that same player has taken to the internet and unleashed a defensive tirade of his role in the defeat and criticised his manager’s tactics. Consumed within seconds by thousands of fans, the comments reverberate through traditional media coverage and the following week the player finds himself fined and on the bench for undermining the club that pays his wages.
An extreme example, perhaps, but nevertheless it suitably highlights just how a rush of blood to the head can lead to unprecedented controversy. Just ask Joey Barton. After being rightfully sent off for an elbow to Carlos Tevez which preceded a succession of attacks on Manchester City players during QPR’s scintillating match at the Ethiad on Sunday, Barton naturally took to his Twitter account. When the onlookers waited for an apologetic stance (something he half-heartedly gave) it was characteristically followed by an embarrassing defence of his actions, as he cited Tevez as instigating the violence and maintained: “The head was never gone at any stage” (a comment that Sergio Aguero’s bruised thigh would perhaps argue against).
Barton doesn’t stop there. Following Match of the Day’s punditry analysis, where Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker voiced the opinion of most people when stating his behaviour should be met with a lengthy ban and has no place in football, Barton predictably took exception. Temporarily interchanging his abilities for a physical attack with a verbal attack, Barton once again opened up his Twitter account. Amongst several foul mouthed tweets, Barton actually tried to play the victim card by pointing at Shearer and saying: “Just don’t like how he gets personal”, before subsequently tweeting: “I really don’t like that prick, in fact I honestly despite him”, demonstrating how the concept of moral high ground is perhaps lost on him.
In 2009, Darren Bent also drew in controversy when the striker conveyed his anger at Tottenham’s chairman David Levy through his personal Twitter account. In a foul mouthed declaration, Bent said: ““Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go Stoke NO. Do I wanna go Sunderland YES. So stop f*****g around, Levy”. Bent would argue that the end justifies the means, as the player was sold not long after this. However, many would see it as not only harming the player’s future affiliation with Tottenham, but also his professional reputation.
Of course, fans will argue it allows a clearer path for them to reach out to their heroes on a more personal level (despite their collective Twitter phrase of “followers” conjuring up more sinister connotations) as never before have fans been granted such intimate knowledge of a footballer’s lifestyle. Before social networking, as far as fans were aware, footballers entered the pitch, played for 90 minutes, exited the pitch and were then kept in cages until their next outing. Now, players update their fans on the food they had for breakfast, what programmes they’re watching on television and who their favourite member of One Direction is. It allows fans to absorb all this personal information to form an impression of their heroes they can relate to. So when they decide which player to get on their replica shirts, it’s not based solely on their goals per games ratio, but instead holds deeper meaning.
From a player’s perspective, if played carefully and correctly, social networking can also possess distinct advantages. Why bother filtering a press release through your PA, organising a conference and making the effort to turn up personally, when you can simply showcase your views worldwide from the comfort of your own couch? Gone are the days when footballers had to wait for the next day newsprint to dispel any rumours regarding transfers or internal rifts, as they can now merely submit a Facebook status to instantly squash any disparaging remarks made about them in the media. In 2011, Wayne Rooney responded to rumours suggesting he was on the verge of leaving Manchester United by tweeting: “the manager and I have no issues and anyone who says different don’t know what they are talking about”. In the past, this story may have spiralled out of control and spread throughout the country until anyone who had the funds to buy a newspaper could tell you Rooney’s days were numbered. However, through social networking, the player instantly nullified the potential threat and consequently reassured worried fans of his commitment to the club.
Aside from challenging critics, the power of moulding a self-image is a useful tool for many footballers. It can demonstrate you have a sense of humour, as Jack Wilshere showed when he tweeted: “BREAKING TRANSFER NEWS: I have just moved from the sofa to the bed!” Previously, the only opportunity we had to hear player’s opinions was during a drab, predictable, cliché ridden post match interview where questions posed by reporters such as: “How do you rate your own performance today?” were met with a scripted and robotic answer of: “It was all about the team”. It becomes refreshing to surf through twitter and see a bit of originality and humour which is otherwise lost under the spotlight of a Sky Sport’s camera.
The issues raise several questions for future talents to ponder and reflect on. For instance, will a Facebook account be legislated into the F.A’s handbook and made into a compulsory requirement for footballers? Or alternatively, as well as salaries, bonuses and vacations, will there be a stipulation in contracts banning players from Twitter? What can be certain is, with the older generation of footballers slowly beginning to retire, the fresh faces emerging into the sport will surely carry the reigns of social networking with them to ensure the popularity and controversy will linger on.