How Manchester City v Arsenal thrust social media front and centre
The aftermath of the Premier League’s opening weekend has seen a theme recur in the mainstream coverage of the action: social media.
The days when social reaction to a game was an afterthought or a niche area are obviously long gone by now, but internet comment has become so normal that it’s only when negative coverage takes place that it makes headline news.
After one particular game on Sunday, that happened.
Arsenal hosted Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium in a game that saw everyone looking out for two main things. The start of the season is always a game where some of the summer’s questions are answered – or where people attempt to answer them. This week, fans were asking how Unai Emery’s Gunners would play after being coached by Arsene Wenger for so long, and whether champions Manchester City would change anything about their style of play.
Both questions then zoomed in to focus on two players on the pitch. For Arsenal, the inclusion of Petr Cech and Emery’s insistence that his team pass out from the back became the obvious talking point. For City, it was the role of Benjamin Mendy. The Frenchman was injured for most of last season and so is a fresh option for Pep Guardiola to use this season.
After the game, though, it wasn’t just the questions about their on-the-pitch performances that got fans talking. There was also interest in what they were doing off it as well.
Pep Guardiola’s post-match press conference mentioned that Mendy – a social media sensation, by all accounts – should lay off the compulsive posting a little bit more, whilst Petr Cech was the victim of a bit of ‘banter’ from the official Twitter account of Bayer Leverkusen, who had little to do with the game but whose own compulsive posting created needless controversy and implicitly criticised a nice man who’d had a tough day.
Oops ???? https://t.co/dVBYJNbKPM
— Benjamin Mendy (@benmendy23) August 12, 2018
So what do these two incidents mean?
On the Mendy topic, the broader question is whether or not footballers – and athletes in general – can be distracted by their social media use. In the same way that they might be criticised for other distractions in their personal lives, this feels like another potential lazy criticism of footballers who can’t be expected to focus on training every second of the day (indeed that would cause numerous other problems). It’s also not like Mendy is up at 3am posting to Instagram – that might be an issue.
The Cech subject is a much more serious one.
European clubs like Leverkusen along with Roma, Bayern Munich and others are starting to see the huge potential in digital media. They’re setting up English language Twitter accounts to channel the sort of fan engagement that American sports teams have been carrying out for years and arguably do a lot better than their European equivalents.
But with greater fearlessness on social comes missteps and ruffled feathers. That’s what happened with Leverkusen when they tweeted, implicitly, that their former goalkeeper Bernd Leno – now an Arsenal player – should have started instead of Petr Cech, who didn’t look comfortable with being asked to play in a style that’s unusual for him.
We might know a guy…
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) August 12, 2018
Cech, having seen the Leverkusen tweet, replied accusing the German club of a lack of respect which prompted the club’s reply – something of a non-apology apology:
Hi Petr. It seems our joke about wanting to see Leno, our former player, in action has been taken a bit more harshly/personally than intended. It was only a bit of banter. We’re all for the values you’ve stated and wish you and your big club all the best. Nice 1v1 save on Aguero!
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) August 13, 2018
Inevitably there’s a fine line between putting your foot in it and doing it right when football clubs start to get creative on social media. But the general rule has to be to stay positive and never go negative – because that’s when problems arise.
And that’s when social media hits the headlines.
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