Monty’s Social Outlook – Issue 16

Since he signed his five-year contract at Liverpool football club in 2007, Ryan Babel has spent more time warming his Dutch bottom on the bench rather than playing for his team.

Used as an ‘impact player’ who comes on as a substitute and occasionally changes a game, he has made more impact on Twitter than the greensward of Anfield.

Earlier this month Babel tweeted a mock-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt implying that the referee had sided with the team after they had dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

This act of Photoshop resulted in a FA charge of misconduct and an ensuing fine of £10,000. Handing down the fine, FA chairman Roger Burden showed that he understood social networks by saying that ‘Twitter must be regarded as being in the public doman’… which is good to know and probably the biggest understatement ever uttered by somebody in that noble institution.

More importantly for Babel, his public domain tweeting also endeared himself to the ever-optimistic supporters of Liverpool FC while increasing his Twitter followers by 29,000 to more than 187,000.

While the power of Babel on the football pitch has always been in question, his social networking clout is in no doubt. The player doesn’t seem to give a fig about the fuss. His profile contains the hashtag #Twitterjail and a recent tweet of #FreeRyanBabel underscores his indifference. Perhaps that five-year contract helps him to stay above the fray, although he hasn’t tweeted anything since January 9th.

Even his manager isn’t taking Babel seriously when questioned on the matter: ‘I don’t think he’s clever enough technically to have drawn that up himself’, was Kenny Dalglish’s reply. This either illustrates extraordinarily subtle man-management skills or Dalglish is preparing Babel for an imminent transfer to another team.

Babel’s indiscretion/genius self-publicising is another in a long and boring line of athletes tripping up on Twitter and only proves that people blessed with physical talents should not bother themselves with other disciplines such as social networks or the rudiments English grammar.

Whether it’s Rio Ferdinand bowdlerising the English language with his use of textspeak or Australian cricketer Phil Hughes posting the confidential news that he wouldn’t be playing in a 2009 Ashes test, the faux pas are endless.

Athletes as diverse as Kevin Pietersen, Darren Bent, Ian Poulter, Dimitri Maschrenhas are others who who haven’t looked before they leapt on Twitter and perhaps they is something to be said for using third parties to tweet for them.

Even family members of sportsmen are throwing their tweets into the mix. Tottenham squad-member David Bentley’s wife called for the club to let her husband move to a new team (since granted) and Liverpool defender Paul Konchesky’s mother insulted the club’s supporters on Facebook after they’d insulted her son on the terraces/in the seats.

While these athletes would be wiser to spend their energy in the gym rather than on social networks, some find their very gaucherie welcome in a world of spin and PR teams that mollycoddle celebrities and who release inane statements from their clients.

Others, however, find their utterances irritating and the ensuing publicity suffocating. Even Darren Bent, whose earlier protestations to his chairman on Twitter about delays to his proposed move to Sunderland saw sense.

Bent later closed his Twitter account calling it a ‘distraction’ when his (new club) Sunderland were fighting to escape relegation and even his recent move to Aston Villa hasn’t seen his account reactivated.

Babel may be minded to do the same when Liverpool are embroiled in a similar battle to avoid dropping into the Championship, that is if he stays at the club.

Monty (630 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.