Manchester United has always been a side that pushed youth development and looked to get local or club developed players into the side where possible. The two most successful eras in the clubs history (60s and 90s/2000s) have been built around a solid number of youth players making the grade. It’s fair to say that other than the hardcore reserve and youth team followers of Manchester United, few fans will have known about these players until the manager felt they were ready to make the step up.
Today however it is a very different story and you’d be hard pressed to find a Manchester United fan that was unaware of Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and the other players that have developed in the ranks at the club. The dawn of the social media age has led to unprecedented access and vision of players yet to fully step up to first team level. This new way of being able to tap into the youth of the club and its future is changing what fans discuss and the way younger players have now developed. Having this large amount of access and ability to view players more closely would, you imagine, be a positive for fans and the game but is it all as positive as we want it to be?
Look at the Eden Hazard situation; he has basically teased the fans of several different clubs over the last 6 months via twitter. When the transfer saga was eventually ‘resolved’ in the last few days with the tweet
“I’m signing for the Champions League winner.”
It was still not clear-cut; why not actually name a club? That tweet can be interpreted as he’s joining a team that has won the Champions League (United) or the current holders (Chelsea) but it again leaves questions and the media talking about him. Why not just name the club? By suggesting he is joining the ‘Champions League winner’ he appears to be trying to justify the move not being about money. Memo to Hazard, you had no involvement in that success.
I’ve noticed ‘shout outs’ in the last few weeks for players in the academies at United from Under 13s upwards, whilst this is something you would obviously be proud of as a player/kid – is it something we really want broadcasting to nut jobs in social media?
Social media is the new terraces for fans the world over. Fans in places like America, Asia and Africa, now have the chance to engage with other fans and more importantly the players as well. This has led to great discussions and linking up of rival fans or fans of the same club from other locations. It has also given the unstable fans a voice which is loud and has direct access to players. Abuse of players is on the rise via social media and several high-profile cases have included racist abuse. Fans have also seen players reacting to taunts and abuse they cannot react to when playing. Players such as Rio Ferdinand, Rooney and Joey Barton have all received and reacted to abuse through social media.
Twitter offers a valued insight in the life and personalities of footballers in the modern time. Many now see it as an opportunity to further push brands they are sponsored by but others are actively engaging fans to create opportunities to get closer than ever to their idols. Whilst established players are using twitter in order to reach out to their fans, the bigger concern as a viewer of the phenomenon is the use of twitter by the younger players in clubs, yet to fully reach the heights of being a ‘star’
When the fabled class of 92 emerged for United how many fans other than the avid academy/reserve watchers were aware of the potential?
Now every fan going has access to games online, the stats and write ups about the youth players and also the players themselves via twitter. Every player is now deemed the new Messiah for the club, Morrison, Pogba and Cleverley have all suffered this and in cases of Cleverley and Morrison have received abuse when things haven’t gone well. Threats for not signing contracts, daily abuse for no reason other than playing for Man United, it’s never ending for players all in the name of trying to connect with fans.
That’s not to say that players never received stick on the streets or the terraces but its easy for a ‘keyboard warrior’ to set up an account and bombard players with comments that they would never say in public. The major concern in the future appears to be the younger youth players now appearing on twitter, the under 13s/14s/15s who will be told they are the future and amazing of a one youtube video, or abused for merely being a United player rather than playing for someone else.
This access to players will not go away unless the clubs deny players the opportunity to sign up. The positives in appearing in this sort of media is obvious but the way certain areas of fans are taking the opportunity to hammer players for making the effort to connect. The bigger players may have thick skins and be able to bat it away but this may not be so easy for a younger player.
Social Media is a fantastic idea and offers lots of chances and ways to interact as fans but it appears the dark clouds are closing in on certain aspects of connecting with the players fans love.
How much longer will it last? That depends how which club is first to blink and remove players from the dangers of trying to reach out to fans.