When Toronto FC was in her early days, there were one or two articles that appeared about the club on English sites. One was written by Globe scribe and Official Friend of AMSL, John Doyle. In it, he wrote this: "But the local homeboy favourite among the Canucks is 19-year-old Andrea Lombardo who played briefly for Italian sides Perugia and Atalanta before coming back to his hometown. Why is he the favourite? Because he famously takes the bus to work, that's why." In other words, he's human. He takes public transport, like a human being on a limited budget. We empathize with him, even though he wasn't such a great player. At all.
Yesterday, someone on Twitter linked this statement from Manchester United: "The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites." As in, Manchester United wish to further remove players from unfettered access to the rest of the world, and that guy posing as PScholes on Twitter is in fact an obese Dutch dairy farmer.
Hey, I hate social networking as much as the next guy, which is to say, I actually quite enjoy it. I don't buy the load of malarkey about how it makes us all less human; any communication from people around the world that wouldn't have existed before is a good thing. Most of my footballing life takes place electronically, as, like many North Americans, I only have one Toronto friend with whom I can talk about football for hours and hours (Hi Mark!), and I don't get to see him every week. I've met up with football acquaintances in New York, London, even here at home. They've all been quite pleasant. Very human. All centered around football.
We've known for some time now that players are in fact becoming less and less human every day. This of course is an illusion. When Adebayor ran and celebrated in front of the Arsenal supporters after scoring for Man City, many writers criticized him for a very unprofessional fit of pique from a very well-paid footballer who should have known better. In other words, his wages make him above and beyond the silly little loyalties of English football fans. Last week, when he spoke eloquently about the dilemma facing Togo after a vicious attack killed three of his countrymen and friends, one of whom purportedly died in his arms, he was praised for his level-headedness and humanity. In other words players, for better, for worse, are human beings.
I don't follow many players on twitter, nor do I "fan" players on facebook. Most of the time it's because I don't find they have very much of interest to say, except maybe Jimmy Conrad. But at least sites like Twitter have provided a means to cut through the high-gloss celebrity, the insular world of footballers, who increasingly behave like anyone would, stuck in the land of lost children. I know all the professional reasons why players shouldn't be using social media, but the more you keep these people separated from the rabble, the harder it's going to be to empathize with any of these people as anything other than well-fed thoroughbred horses.