Footballers' attempts to communicate online show a human side. Dave Lee believes it's something we should be encouraging
Our online personas, while not generally untruthful, are an exaggerated portrayal of what we see ourselves to be. Footballers are no different. The online representations of some of the top players are not those shown in heavily managed media appearances.
At the top of the scale is the slick operation of #5, the "digital lifestyle magazine" from Rio Ferdinand. I'm more than a defender, it screams, I'm a style icon, and mine is a lifestyle in which "Win a year's supply of Nando's" is a desirable bonus to life. Further down the leagues we find the likes of former Bury trainee Aaron Grundy. The goalkeeper's personal site includes a "20 questions" page featuring 15 – yes, 15 – deeply insightful probes. "Have you got any pets?" it asks. "No."
Meanwhile, somewhere in north London, Andrei Arshavin has also been busy getting involved in the Q&A game. "Andrei," begins AndyBafc who, you would presume, isn't being entirely serious, "are you frightened of bears?" "On the contrary," says Andrei, "I like bears."
But to mock the players making an effort is perhaps unfair. After all, the superstars of the game have never been less accessible in the real world. So you could say that interacting with fans online is the modern-day equivalent of a Bobby Charlton backstreet kickabout. On the whole, footballers are remarkably engaging online – particularly on Twitter. Wayne Rooney actually seems to exude some of the role-model virtues the world has arguably unfairly lumbered him with. He is, by all accounts, a hard-working and dedicated footballer. A cynic could suggest it was a elaborate PR ploy, but his effortless winding-up of Michael Owen would make you hope, and believe, not.
Others, like Arsenal wonderkid Jack Wilshere, offer little else than child-like observations on the world around them. "Japan coach laughing?????????? He is relaxed haha!" he gifted us recently. Still, with unwavering support of England's women in the recent World Cup and a constant "Be good!" outlook, he's doing far more good than harm.
For those not content to just simply partake in idle chit-chat, the web provides an opportunity to spread their entrepreneurial wings. Wolves' Jody Craddock, for instance, set up a site to show off and flog his mainly sport-inspired artwork. And Dion Dublin is spending his retirement doing the rounds in promoting his "Dube", a cube-shaped musical instrument he says can help educate children at 150 quid a pop. "The Dube is crazy!" raves a quote from DJ Tim Westwood.
Andrei's bear love and reinvented drums aside, the web offers unparalleled ways to get out an important message. For Didier Drogba this means publicising his personal campaign to improve healthcare and education in his native Ivory Coast and across wider Africa.
Closer to home, for Owen Hargreaves harnessing the internet meant the chance to resurrect his career. In a move that divided public opinion between ridicule and admiration for his dedication to his profession, the injury-ravaged Hargreaves posted a series of YouTube clips demonstrating, with the help of his personal trainer, just how uninjured he is.
Thousands upon thousands watched, among them Sven-Göran Eriksson, who may offer him a go at Leicester City. Predictably, and with the tact of an elderly school master who outlaws new things because he simply has no idea what they are, some clubs have moved to ban the use of social networking sites by their squad, suggesting it could bring the club into disrepute. This will change in time. Indeed, elsewhere in the world of sport, Team GB officials are encouraging athletes to tweet during meetings as a means of keeping the public "close" to the competitors. A similar attitude to football is well overdue.
It is hard to argue against something that offers a human side to a special class of people who, for years now, have become super-human, elevated to heights that are well beyond your average teenager. Through the web, players can send children out to the playgrounds of the world boasting, quite accurately, that "Cesc Fàbregas wrote a message to me today".
From WSC 295 September 201