By Adam Hicks.
Twitter is fast becoming a dangerous playground for some footballers as their comments are causing controversy and forcing clubs to re-think their stance on social networking sites.
Joey Barton is the latest player to hit the headlines for misusing the site, last week he criticised the Newcastle United board and was subsequently placed on the transfer list with immediate effect. This prompted the club to threaten the rest of their players with legal action if they were to post derogatory comments about the club.
This might seem a tad harsh but Barton’s comments were bound to anger the board and provoke some sort of reaction, perhaps that was his intention all along who knows? Nevertheless if we examine the situation from a purely business perspective then having an employee criticise you publicly is an employer’s worst nightmare, not to mention highly embarrassing.
“If only we as players could tell the fans exactly how it is, without them above fining us lots of money,” tweeted Barton.
If the midfielder went unpunished it could have led to a host of players criticising the club without the fear of repercussion. This would harm the club’s reputation and concern supporters so the board had to diffuse the situation quickly and lay down a marker. Not only was Barton placed on the transfer list he was fined two weeks’ wages and made to train alone, which he of course revealed on Twitter, “The inevitable – two weeks’ wages fine has just arrived.”
It’s a difficult situation for clubs and leaves them walking on egg shells somewhat, upset a player and they could be subject to a virtual tongue-lashing via Twitter. So it explains why some poor sod in the legal department is desperately trawling through the small print of a player’s contract looking for possible breaches so the club can start docking wages.
But let’s flip the coin and consider this from a fan’s point of view. Twitter has given them a glimpse into the glamorous life of the professional footballer, albeit in small bitesize portions, and help break down the barriers that separate them from their heroes. Even if its relatively dull information like: ‘just finished training, now going to make a sandwich,’ it’s information they didn’t have before so they’re grateful for it. Plus there’s always a chance someone will lose their temper and become front page news the next morning after an x-rated rant about a board member or celebrity.
Twitter also gives fans an opportunity to interact with players and share their thoughts on the clubs current affairs. It’s like a form of fan mail, although for every response one supporter receives another hundred are left disappointed – not that it deters anyone from trying. Players are also benefiting from the site, they have the opportunity to let supporters know the ‘real’ them and not the person depicted in the press. We can therefore assume that the player’s agent, management, PR team etc are all in favour of Twitter too.
But on the other hand if a player gets it wrong their comments spread like wildfire as people send the message far and wide through a succession of retweets and hashtags that are soon picked up by the media. Barton is by no means the first footballer to land himself in hot water for using twitter; there is a growing list of players who have all been given a serious ticking off for posting controversial comments.
Rewind two years and Darren Bent was the first high-profile player to receive a hefty fine for using Twitter. Bent had used the site to vent his anger with Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy after he supposedly blocked his move to Sunderland. “Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go Stoke NO do I wanna go Sunderland YES so stop f***ing around levy.” Bent was fined £120,000 for his outburst but did eventually get his move to the north east.
Ryan Babel became the first player to be charged by the FA for using Twitter. The Dutchman, then at Liverpool, was charged with improper conduct after posting a link to mocked-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt. Babel also said: “And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke.” Babel suggested that Webb was to blame for Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup during which United were awarded a penalty and Steven Gerrard was sent-off. Immediately after the game Babel decided to share his frustration via Twitter and his knee jerk reaction cost him £10,000. A few years ago there wasn’t the opportunity to publish your thoughts in the public domain so quickly, nowadays with the smartphone and Twitter going hand-in-hand users can tweet from wherever and whenever they like – which can either by a good or bad thing.
Man United are well represented on Twitter with @rioferdy5 @WayneRooney and @themichaelowen all prolific tweeters. Ferdinand has over 1.3 million followers and regularly posts photos and videos to give fans an insight into his life as well as getting them involved in debates, he recently asked, “if players misuse twitter, should we fine them just like the NFL do?” The United defender is clearly great advert for footballers using the site.
Wayne Rooney recently joined Twitter and attracted worldwide attention when he posted a picture of his hair transplant on the site but it didn’t take him long to find trouble, he replied to an abusive tweet from a follower and told them: “I’ll put u asleep within ten seconds”. He also suggested that the user should meet him at the training ground for a fight. However, he later posted saying it was all just banter. Rooney didn’t receive any punishment from the FA but demonstrated how easy it is to cause a stir.
Other players have had unsavoury experiences on Twitter like ex-United midfielder Darron Gibson. Shortly after the Republic of Ireland international had set-up his account he was bombarded with negative tweets from irate fans, “The biggest compliment I can give you is that you’re better than Carrick” one user posted. Some United fans saw it as an opportunity to voice their anger over Gibson’s performances for the club. The “team do all [the]hard work keeping possession then u hit it into row z every f***in time!!” Two hours later the 23 year-old had deleted his account and has not yet resurfaced in the twittersphere.
I think it’s safe to say that Gibson wasn’t the first and won’t be the last footballer to be hounded with negative tweets and we can sensibly assume that players are receiving negative comments everyday but surely that’s part of the experience. Just ask Robbie Savage.
However, it’s clear it would be impossible to ban players from using Twitter on a permanent basis but evidently there needs to be certain guidelines drawn out. Newcastle boss Alan Pardew stated he contacted Sir Alex Ferguson recently to see what United’s policy was in terms of players using the site. It was revealed they are strictly forbidden from discussing the club at all which appears to be a sensible approach; players can continue tweeting providing they don’t bad mouth the club. Others may adopt a similar policy or attempt to ban their players from using Twitter altogether.
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