Here’s a post I did for Dexy’s Den last Friday. Slightly lazy re-posting I know, but it’s a topic worthy of debate I think. Me and Groundsy postulated the use of twitter by footballers phenomenon over a burrito in Islington’s branch of Chilango. I was picking his well educated sporting brains about this player interaction – the pro’s, con’s and the future of this form of communication. I think it’s fair to say that this coming season will see a considerable buidling upon the format’s original premises from last year, with the idea of a manager getting involved either directly with twitter themselves by broadcasting messages on it, or a player being in the firing line of a manager for a poorly timed comment (Scholes needn’t bother creating an account in my eyes) which happened a few times last year with Wenger and Fergie both speaking out, and players being fined for comments against individuals, managers and referees.
Rio Ferdinand tweeted earlier today – ‘Pre season training is in full effect! Hard running + football today….legs are feeling it! #stayonyourfeet after the long runs!’ He recently, in the past 20 minutes or so, followed this up with – ‘Muscles are aching from pre season #oooff! (I love it though)….a soak in the bath + a good book about Google I’m reading coming up!’ Familiar Ferdy, as we all know and love. Familiar #oooff and #stayonyourfeet hashtags for which he’s become synonymous with. The coming season is creeping around the corner. We know this because Rio says so. He’s in pre season, his legs ache, he’s working hard. So must every other footballer, right? Well his tweets would suggest so.
The big media tool of the past few years has to be twitter. A voice for everyone, from fan, journo to player, it seems we’re in an age where we increasingly obtain our news from the internet and twitter rather than dwindling print. Football felt this seismic media shift perhaps more than any other sector. Wenger postulates the danger of player outbursts via tweets, giving advice more akin to the green cross bloody code – ‘The key is to think before you tweet’, Fergie went all ruddy cheeked and angry, not understanding this technological advancement from a basic way of life he’s more familiar with – ‘I don’t know why anybody can be bothered with that kind of stuff. How do you find the time to do that.’ Giggs still hasn’t confirmed whether he will be creating an account. Ha ha ha, had to get that in there. The size of the cloud twitter has held over the Premier League throughout the previous season is undeniable. The argument for the site is clear – Essentially, twitter allows players to cultivate an image and perhaps more vitally, connect with fans, followers, regular peoples of the British Isles in an age of distorted weekly wages and huge egos. The player will bypass any middleman – a journalist for the paper or a club manager for example – and be able to communicate with fans directly, in plain, clear (badly spelt in Rooney’s case) English. Everton fans quizzing Sylvain Distin on the Owen Hargreaves rumours for example, lead him to respond with a fairly safe but clear, all I know is what you know – reassurance that the fans aren’t 100 steps behind the insiders perhaps.
Players are the main attraction on twitter – 1’253’058 follow Rio who is the biggest attraction – then Rooney, who attracts 999’364 followers. 645’756 follow Wilshere, 501’892 follow Owen and only a paltry (by the previously mentioned’s standards) 12’641 follow Distin. They would be the main attraction though, obviously, however twitter is an invaluable tool for all those connected with football. The fan, the aspiring journo, the more established journo – Bryan Swanson of Sky Sports for example, the pundit – Robbie Savage being an extremely popular and (influential??!) twitter presence. Even the odd, unlikely comedian can break through the ranks and offer genuinely funny snippets of satire against the current footballing climate – Not Jamie Redknapp being the pick of the bunch here. But it is the players for whom this medium benefits, or indeed hampers. The Giggs debacle brought about the ugly side of this medium to the forefront the invasion of privacy, of someone who otherwise had no involvement whatsoever with twitter. He certainly hadn’t whored himself through the medium like Ferdinand or Rooney. I wonder if Giggs has a stayonyourfeet shirt? This was an example of a futile attempt to gag the press, in an age where the press are growing increasingly redundant – the printed press anyway. What about someone who is on twitter – Rooney, and his very public spat with a Kopite who had threatened to come down to Utd’s training ground and cave his head in? Not that I’m worried about Shrek for one minute, but the fact he retaliated to who was probably a 14 year old sitting behind a computer in Kent, speaks volumes of the dangers players get themselves into. Play it right and you can cultivate a new, approachable image – get it wrong, and you can look a complete tool. For those of you who havent seen this bitchy twitter fight, Wazza is as dim & as perplexed by the English language as he seems on the telly. Rio – official chief of the twitter universe, a role model for all aspiring footballer-cum-wannabe tweeters, bit back at a detractor who had suggested he was unapproachable and rude – to which Rio replied that he is indeed approachable, but not when having dinner with his family. Fair enough, I’d say. The problem with this barrier between fan and footballer being broken is that the fan assumes the player is now sort of public property, their friend in the same way as everyone on Facebook is your friend. The lines therefore are becoming increasingly blurred. My good pal Groundsy suggested format solely devoted to player communication. A football only version of Twitter – http://www.Foottweet.com if you like, http://www.I’m just like you.org, or http://www.Rio’s network.com. Something football-centric, or moreover player-centric, with all accounts being verified & authorised. This happens already, but the danger with bringing out something like this is that, should it be successful, it risks over saturating player & sponsor endorsed ads (this happens already too), and also an over saturation in general, with too many players giving too many voices and opinions, and therefore too many characters. Would Ferguson oust a player whose twitter persona outshone his playing credentials? (cough, Rio, cough) We don’t need 11 players from each Premier League club on twitter. Premier League teams don’t need 11 players with opinions, comments, thoughts and little picture moments so important that they need to be posted immediately on the internet. Rio announced that SWP has become the latest player to join the twitter ranks. That is Shaun Wright Phillips, of rivals Man City, who Rio endorses as a fellow England international. It seems that Ferdinand, being stripped of the England and Utd captaincies, has found perhaps a greater calling. The next step you’d suggest would be managers. As far as I’m aware, there are no Premier League managers on twitter – apparently Dalglish (of all people?!) tried, but has had his account removed. I can’t see managers signing up to this in the immediate future – but with the dangers of speaking out in post match press conferences, this doesn’t look like a completely alien prospect. Whether the whole notion of twitter detracts from the football somewhat, and promotes the celebrity persona is up for debate. What’s for sure is that there is a whole new avenue of communication no doubt to spark controversy in the coming season, maybe even before.