Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Footballers and social networks: a disaster waiting to happen

Facebook and Twitter have approximately 800 million users combined all around the world. We all use these social networks for different reasons and all seem to enjoy using them. They’ve become an invaluable medium to anyone who’s online. However, when individuals that are in the public eye all the time become active on these social networks, you can bet it’s a timed bomb waiting to explode; particularly when it comes to Footballers. Nowadays, one particular trend which has become more and more commonplace in the Football world is when a player activates a Twitter or a Facebook account – and we’ve seen various skirmishes which I believe are a sign of things to come. 

In January 2011, following Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester United in the F.A.Cup, Ryan Babel posted a picture on his Twitter page of referee Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United jersey; a picture that Babel had created himself (great Photoshop skills, may I say). Subsequently, the F.A charged Ryan Babel for “improper conduct”, the first charge of its kind in any sport in the world; a player getting punished by the higher authorities for expressing a personal opinion online, and ever since then Footballers are under an intense microscope when using these social networks. Every word, every picture, every update is being read like words from a God writing his commandments. The worst part about this, in my opinion, is it also shows what footballers nowadays are really like, and that’s not a pretty sight.

Some see the use of these social networks as a positive thing, for example when Arsene Wenger was questioned about this topic, he said “it can be very positive because it can be a good communication tool between the players and the fans which doesn’t exist anymore”. Fair enough, especially as Footballers do believe their own hype and their stardom is way over-the-top, so this could be viewed as the link between players and fans to build a stronger relationship between them.  But on the other hand you’ve got scenarios that are just waiting to break out. For Football fans who do attend games, insulting opposing players comes as part of the territory and the thrill of the game, but we all know that the players are used to the barrage of abuse anyways and can barely hear what the fans are yelling at them – so imagine you had the opportunity to blast that abuse directly at the player, and he’s obliged to read it, and he can’t do or say anything about it...a disaster waiting to happen.

The guilty parties during these skirmishes will always be either the player (for either a childish reaction to the abuse or for a meaningless post), as was the case of Wayne Rooney, who recently threatened a follower of his by saying “I’ll put u asleep within 10 seconds” and obviously a whole massive media reaction followed; or the fans (or “followers”) who will make sure they say things to provoke or belittle players, for example when Darron Gibson created a Twitter account, within a few hours he had to delete the account because all he got was a load of abuse…from his own Manchester United fans. Recently, and this story is just unbelievable, Omar Kassoko (of Amiens Sporting Club in France) had just been transferred to his new club Auxerre, when he took it upon himself to write on his facebook account (under the pseudonym “Young Mula”) what he really thought of his new team-mates and the new town he’d be living in by criticizing them, and now fans of both Auxerre and Amiens are trying to persuade the authorities to get him punished for his remarks and his transfer could now be in jeopardy. These are just a few examples of the clashes between players and fans which have already occurred. 

It’s a delicate situation because Footballers have never been individuals that are recognized for knowing their limitations. Some of their monthly salaries are higher than the GDPs of numerous countries around the world, so one can imagine the state of mind that they’re in. But if social networks have taught us anything about Footballers, especially over the past season, it’s that Footballers talk way too much and do very little. Rio Ferdinand, with his 1 million “followers” on Twitter, usually spends several hours arguing with Piers Morgan, celebrity Arsenal fan, in such a pitiful manner that it makes you wonder how on earth are these men considered grown-up individuals. I won't even get started on the spelling errors that Footballers make because that would take up a whole article. With these social networks we are now seeing what Footballers really think and say when they're asked questions and not what they are told to say (as per the usual answers in front of cameras) and it's beginning to heat up slowly but surely. I personally believe that in the near future, Footballers will be banned by their clubs (or the authorities) from using these social networks, but before that happens there will probably be a huge event for that to occur – I can’t wait.