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How the Internet Has Changed the Face of Football Forever

Ross Edgley@@rossedgleyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2014

CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Fans look on with electronic devices during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group F match between Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Arena Pantanal on June 21, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

The internet has changed the way fans experience football forever. In fact, of all the developments to occur within football over the last 50 years, it could be argued the internet—more specifically social media—has had the greatest impact of all.

But taking into account both the objective and subjective evidence, is this technological intervention a good thing? Twitter statistics from this year’s World Cup certainly paint a pleasant picture. As does Mario Balotelli’s small army of loyal social-media followers who celebrate every selfie their cult hero broadcasts.

Mario Balotelli @FinallyMario

http://t.co/sDUsDzzHc7

On the other hand, a currently unemployed David Moyes would probably disagree. As would his successor, Louis van Gaal, who currently finds himself weathering the storm that is Manchester United’s disgruntled social media channels.

Equally, it could be argued the career of on-loan Aston Villa midfielder Tom Cleverley has been hugely influenced by social media following an online petition against him joining the England squad and a brutally worded online Q&A at Aston Villa.

Essentially social media has given fans a voice that was previously unheard from the terraces. Also it gives them unprecedented access to the lives of the players, managers and teams they so passionately support. Analysing the “double-edge sword” that is the internet here we see who’s managed to wield it in their favour and those who are at the mercy of the mob.

The Internet’s Positive Impact

Mario Balotelli is a gifted player, but one look at his impressive social-media presence and it’s clear he’s equally skilled online too. He has fewer footballing accolades and less trophies in his cabinet than the more experienced Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, but despite a less impressive resume, he boasts 9.8 million followers on Facebook compared to Pirlo’s modest 4.7 million. Plus, he has a further 3.18 million on Twitter, which dwarfs Pirlo’s 1.36 million.    

Therefore, it could be argued that regardless of his current form—and purely in terms of his marketing potential—this makes him a more valuable asset for any club both in terms of social media and PR.

An idea supported by an article published by Metro entitled “Top 10 reasons why we would miss Mario Balotelli,” in which the journalist dubbed him “one of the most colourful characters to have graced English football.”

Next, to quote The Independent, this year’s “World Cup was a roaring success.” Many reasons have been cited as to why, ranging from the new ball technology, the sheer list of stars who played and even the Cinderella story of teams like USA and Colombia. But few mainstream articles acknowledge the huge impact social media had.

For instance, according to CNBC, the FIFA 2014 World Cup final broke all records and became the biggest social event on Facebook:

The social media giant reports that 88 million people had more than 280 million interactions about the game, soaring above the previous record set by the 2013 Super Bowl.

Twitter Data @TwitterData

With 35.6 million Tweets, #BRA v #GER is the most-discussed single sports game ever on Twitter. #WorldCup http://t.co/pRjssAZmhg

This was the proverbial cherry on top of Germany’s record-breaking 7-1 victory over Brazil, during which 35.6 million tweets were sent, according to The Guardian. Not to mention the collection of celebrities who contributed—as reported by the Mirror—as everyone from Heidi Klum to Joey Barton took to Twitter to broadcast their reactions.

The Internet’s Negative Impact

But for every online fairy-tale story, there’s equally a nightmare. For example, Manchester United’s recent demise—as reported in the Daily Mail following their 5-3 defeat to Leicester City—was well documented on Twitter. Proof that even with a cumulative total of 102 million followers across social media—as reported by the Telegraph—you can still fall from grace if you fail to tame the “collective consciousness” and pack mentality of social media.

To add insult to injury, the aforementioned king of social media, Mario Balotelli, also decided to add a little fuel to the fire. The below tweet received over 200,000 retweets and over 110,000 favourites, as well as an unfortunate barrage of abuse from offended supporters.

Mario Balotelli @FinallyMario

Man utd ... LOL

Proof that even Balotelli must handle the fickle nature of the internet with care. This particular incident also made the CNN News after it was reported Merseyside Police are launching an investigation into the racist tweets that were directed at Balotelli.

Perhaps even more worrying is this isn't an isolated incident. The same CNN article quotes the British anti-racism group Kick It Out as saying:

We extend our support to Mario Balotelli after the appalling racist abuse directed at him on Twitter. During the 2013/14 season, 50 [per cent] of all complaints submitted to us from across the game related to social media abuse.

Something Tom Cleverley knows only too well. According to The Independent, the aforementioned petition to "exclude" him from the England squad was signed by over 10,000 people after an England fan took issue with Cleverley’s possible selection.

Talking about the online campaign, Roy Hodgson was clearly angry: “The petition does not impress me, I must admit. ... I would like to think that I'm not going to have the England team selected in the future by petitions.”

But did this dismissive attitude toward the fans and their opinions plant the seed for the torrent of criticism England—and Roy Hodgson—later received during the World Cup? Granted, their performance didn’t help, but completely ignoring the views of 10,000 clearly passionate fans probably wasn’t the wisest move.

Unfortunately for Cleverley, it also seems the online torment continues to plague him at domestic level too. This is because the social-media team at the Premier League thought it would be a good idea to host a Twitter Q&A with Aston Villa’s latest signing.

As you’d expect, the abuse that followed—as reported by the Mirror—was brutal. Below are only a handful that I could publish.

Pogbee @TotalUnited

@premierleague @AVFCOfficial Are you coming back to United next year? And the answer better be no

x @SantiHMaxi

@premierleague @AVFCOfficial how are you a professional football player? #askclev

@DareToRoss

@premierleague @AVFCOfficial why can't you hold a football for 3 seconds

So is the internet’s influence on football a good thing? The answer is, of course, yes and no. Regardless, statistics show it’s here to stay. Social media has given fans a voice and players, managers and even the Premier League need to understand this. Roy Hodgson might like to think he’s “not going to have the England team selected in the future by petitions," but the reality is it could soon be very heavily influenced.

  

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