There was once a time when football managers were very keen on getting players to enjoy a round of golf when they weren’t playing or training. It was seen as a good way for them to wind down and bond together in a secluded location away from the public eye and the media, where there were minimal ways they could get themselves in trouble. Well, at least until Craig Bellamy came along.
Today, managers have a brand new potential source of wayward discipline they need to keep their eyes on – Twitter. With every player now having a keyboard and an audience at his fingertips 24 hours a day, footballers who used to be restricted to trite after-match interviews full of clichés like “the boy done good” and “take each game as it comes” now have the ability to sound off about whatever they want, whenever they want, and have it read and retweeted by droves of followers.
When Twitter first started to become popular, I was amazed that old-fashioned taskmaster managers like Sir Alex Ferguson were tolerating it at all. I was expecting that at any moment, he would get his entire team in a room and tell them in no uncertain terms that they were not to use any type of social media site ever, or woe betide them. Really though, Twitter has become so commonplace that this would’ve been beyond even his power.
Some players can be quite insightful and entertaining at times, such as Joey Barton and Rio Ferdinand, although both aren’t averse to making fools of themselves either. In 2014, Barton made a series of jokey tweets about Burnley only to sign for the Lancashire club the following year, while Ferdinand got in hot water a couple of years ago for inappropriate language as part of a maternal insult.
The last few days have seen ex-player and current presenter Gary Lineker receive both support and criticism for his tweets about child refugees, with some commending his compassionate viewpoints and others arguing that he should not be getting involved in such debates as a sports presenter funded by licence payers’ money. Another amusing incident over the weekend saw Sunderland striker Victor Anichebe tweet the below, and not remove it quickly enough to avoid it being screenshotted by other Twitter users:
Victor Anichebe's social media guy is getting sacked 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/zPFZTfLSo2
— James (@Hamez316) October 23, 2016
That incident is fairly harmless, but it’s another indication of what for some football fans will be a crushing truth – that footballers often don’t manage their own Twitter accounts. A couple of months ago, we saw what we have to presume was a mix-up from a social media company as Manchester City player Ilkay Gündogan momentarily seemed to think he was Arsenal’s Mesut Özil. Similarly, it looks like Anichebe has simply tweeted what his social media guru sent him verbatim, or vice versa. Bear in mind then that if you get excited by the idea of players reading and retweeting your comments to them, it might not actually be them doing it at all!
Twitter has certainly enriched footballer-to-supporter communication, and it could be argued that most social media errors are pretty trivial and soon blow over, but the recent suspension of Burney’s Andre Gray does show how much offence and controversy can be caused by irresponsible Twitter use. After all, Twitter is valuable provided you know how to use it, but since it’s easy to put your foot in it, it’s understandable that some stars would rather let their football do the talking and hand the social media reins to somebody else.