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The trouble with Twitter...

Lee Wellings questions the use of Twitter by footballers and asks whether sometimes it's best to put the phone down.
Last modified: 1 Mar 2013 15:31

"I don’t understand Twitter. I don’t know why anyone should get involved with it. We have given instructions to the players that nobody should tweet about Manchester United. We have to."

The words of Alex Ferguson in August last year after an indiscretion by Rio Ferdinand on Twitter. He hadn't even sent the tweet that insulted Ashley Cole, but had re-tweeted it with a laugh.

And so I am puzzled - if not shocked - that @rioferdy5, who remains prolific on twitter, would tweet this on the Tuesday night during Real Madrid's El Clasico humiliation of Barcelona.

"Wow.....Di Maria just opened up the Camp Nou....counter attack play at its best. @Cristiano is in 1 clinical mood.'

Not controversial, nor worthy of a fine, free speech and perfectly true. But I don't comprehend why Ferdinand would do this and I suspect Alex Ferguson might agree with me. Less than a week before him and his team mates have to stop Ronaldo why heap praise on him for him to read?

Imagine some of the great players of PT (pre-Twitter) even considering giving their opponents an iota of praise, a boost, anything at all before a match of such magnitude?

Can you see Graeme Souness doing that? Lothar Matthaus? Franco Baresi? Roy Keane?!! Nor would they shake hands and pat backs in the tunnel before the game which has become more noticeable in football recently. Unthinkable!

Now I'm not saying for a moment that reading praise from his old Man United friend Ferdinand will make a jot of difference to Cristiano Ronaldo when the game kicks off. I've taken on board what @TSF (The Guardian newspaper 's Secret Footballer) said about using opponents for motivation. He rubbished the long held 'myth' that managers pinning insulting comments and headlines from opponents to their own dressing room walls was 'all the motivation' a player needs. He said in this professional age it's completely irrelevent.

But why do it? Why praise your opponent before the game. Show them respect yes but Ferdinand's open views raise a wider issue for football and Twitter as a whole. People have simply got too much to say. There's not enough self-censorship, or caution, or consideration, or common sense, or class. That's Twitter for you.

As my esteemed Al Jazeera colleague @Joannatilley wrote about Twitter. The clue is in the title. Twitter! Don't lend it any more importance than it deserves.

A lot of people will put it forward as the only true link from player to fans, the only way the men and women on the pitch can really reach out to their devotees without the poison of the media. That's partly true, but not to any great extent.

Because the truth of the matter is that Ferdinand is far from the only intelligent footballer - and he does have a brain - to spout a stream of nonsense best kept to him and his real friends. If you don't agree or don't believe me take another look at his timeline.

The player who has conceivably made the most out of Twitter is also the last I would actually follow. Marseille's screening midfielder @Joey7barton is effectively still involved in a 24-7 rebranding exercise, painting himself as a poet warrior, Mr Honesty, surprisingly intellectual and misunderstood. The way the media and public have swallowed this has been stomach churning because every now and then, in amongst the philosophy comes that flash of real bile. Let's see if he keeps performing on the pitch and keeps out of trouble for a few more months, I really hope he does. That’s what counts – not his ceaseless tweeting.

We've had players having a go at each other, at referees, at their club, bemoaning being left on the bench and engaging in spats with the public, generally reflecting what the rest of the millions of Twitter followers across the globe do.

Some managers have tried to take a hard line on it. Others have succeeded in asking their players to be sensible and keep the tweets to specific and non-sensitive areas. But there is a general feeling of fingers being put into the dam walls. Clubs have got enough to worry about with winning matches without policing every tap of a smart phone or computer.

The use of Twitter as part of a player's publicity machine continues to grow rapidly. Even @liomessi is now in on the act, or more realistically 'Team Messi' is tweeting. And so are those who work off the field. @seppblatter has significantly increased his tweet levels, with patterns emerging as to where he’s prepared to go (condolences) and where not (official responses to big breaking football stories do not always provoke a response from his timeline).

My working relationship with Twitter, and it's only a working relationship as no-one needs to know what I think 24 hours a day, is a functional one. A necessary evil. I've tried to use it as a tool to spread information I'm privvy too, to flag up Al Jazeera stories and developments. To share information with our viewers and readers. With respect, my account is not a platform for me to praise the work of rival organisations or correspondents. Some journalists seem happy to do this all the time – should their Editors be happy with this?

To take this beyond football, because the game’s representatives are reflecting patterns of behaviour in Twitter world.

I was saddened but unsurprised by what I read about Oscar Pistorius as the terrible story from South Africa was breaking. Bullish tributes to him pouring in before anyone had considered stepping back and waiting to see the story that was emerging. Others playing judge and jury before any legal processes had taken place.

But the flipside of a social media? The good side? Recently a pensioner here in the UK with no friends or family ended up with a packed military funeral after an appeal for support by a local vicar on Facebook and Twitter. That's more like it.

A call for common sense on Twitter is a futile one. I realise that.

But if I was one of Rio Ferdinand's team mates, or a fan of the club reading his praise for Cristiano Ronaldo, I’d have one thought only. Put your mobile down Rio.

And save your tweeting until after you've stopped him knocking you out of the Champions League.

This column appears on Insideworldfootball.com website where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.