So much in a footballer’s typical day is planned and premeditated with performance in mind. From the morning press conference, to the afternoon training session and the evening meal, events are overlaid by expert guidance. And nearly every time, the advice is adhered to.
Take media commitments as an example; players from the Barclays Premier League to the Ryman Premier League are well versed in how to conduct interviews with print and broadcast press to give the best possible impression of themselves and their club. Outside of the traditional press, however, the picture is somewhat different.
Perhaps the absence of expert guidance makes part of its appeal but Twitter has certainly become a special case. It is unthinkable that Emanuel Frimpong or, most recently, Michel Morganella would be so unguarded and careless as to use the offensive language they have on Twitter, in a press conference or post match television interview.
Twitter is a twitch, a reflex rather than a rehearsed line. It provides both an outlet for sportspeople and an endless source of amusement for fans, primarily because there is no script and the conversation could go in any direction. Some of the Twitter exchanges between footballers over the last few months should be on pay per view, it is compulsive live entertainment.
But Twitter’s immediacy also brings problems. A Tweet sent in spite or anger can be hugely damaging to a player’s reputation; as soon as their club or PR advisor has gently suggested that the offending Tweet be deleted, the message has been read by thousands in the global Twittersphere and the damage is done.
David Bernstein said that offensive language on Twitter will be punished in the same way as that on the football field. As recent history shows though, it is difficult to prove on field offenses, even with the help of cameras and lip readers, but indiscretions on Twitter are reputational obituaries writ large. It is players who let their professionalism slip on Twitter who will have the most to lose, in terms of reputation, popularity and commercial acumen.
No one wants footballers to lose their personalities on Twitter and there’s nothing worse than a constant feed of stolid clichés but, at the same time, professionals must understand that Twitter is not the place to let your guard down and issue indiscriminate, offensive comments. With that in mind, Twitter can be a great place for a footballer to build his personal brand, as the likes of Michael Owen and Gabriel Zakuani, who even named his first son Trendy, have shown.