In days past, (now known as BPL – Before Premier League) footballers lived pretty normal lives. Even the greatest manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, ran a pub while managing East Stirling!*
As well as running pubs, it wasn’t unusual to see players owning sports shops or fashion boutiques, a la the great George Best, so it was quite easy to gain access to the stars of the day. The star players were also likely to be found opening shops, bookmakers, schools or whatever they could to lay their hands on a few extra quid.
Below: George Best outside his boutique & Frank McLintock pulling pints
But as the game grew more popular as a result of SKY taking on the rights to broadcast the Premier League and star international names begin to ply their trade in the Premier League, fans found it harder to relate to their heroes as wages rose dramatically. You certainly wouldn’t find England’s record scorer Wayne Rooney helping his dad out at the family fruit&veg stall like Gary Lineker did!
Below: Gary Lineker, as a fresh-faced youth, is interviewed at his fruit & veg stand, while John Terry marches past fans with headphones on
In an age of superstar players and huge wages, it’s understandable for players to be a bit more guarded and protected from the outside world, though it is still sad to see players walking straight off the team bus with their headphones on ignoring the fans who just want a wave or an autograph.
Thankfully, all is not lost. Since 2006 players have had a new way of engaging with their fan base. As the technological world grew ever larger and more important, a new social interactive tool called Twitter was founded in March 2006.
This platform, allowing users to put up messages of 140 characters, has been a worldwide success and has been taken on by many footballers as a way of interacting with their fans. It has also been a great way of finding out the latest football news from the media, clubs and keeping abreast of games as they happen. In fact, the most tweeted about sports event ever is still Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup with over 35.6million tweets.**
We took a look at the top 20 most followed footballers still playing today. While we can’t comment on the quality of the tweets or how many tweets the player has actually made, the results show that there is a huge latin/Hispanic following of players on Twitter, unsurprising when you consider Brazil is one of the most engaged countries with Twitter.
Below: Starting from the top left and reading across, the 20 footballers with the most followers on twitter!
There were a few surprises, none more so than discovering that Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi doesn’t run a personal Twitter profile! Messi, arguably the joint best player in the world, is proof you don’t need to live your life by 140 characters, or 280 if you are one of the lucky trialists, to be a success in the modern game! His companion at the top of the sport, Cristiano Ronaldo, currently owns the title of “Most Followed Footballer” with over 60 million followers tracking the tweets of @Cristiano. The Real Madrid player however can’t even break into the top 10 most followed people on the platform, currently sitting in 11th place. The only other footballers in the top 50 Twitter accounts are PSG’s Neymar and Brazilian legend Kaka.
The Spanish team are featured heavily in the top 20, with Spain players Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique (probably bolstered by followers of partner Shakira), Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, David de Gea and David Villa all included. Spain’s top league La Liga also provides 7 of the top 20 players with Iniesta, Pique, Ramos joined by Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Marcelo.
British interest includes Wayne Rooney being the 6th most followed player (the next Englishman in the top 50 was Joey Barton, a guy never far away from a controversial tweet or two) and Gareth Bale at number 8. Other players in the top 20 currently plying their trade in England are Mesut Ozil (5), Sergio Aguero (12), Cesc Fabregas (15), David de Gea (16), David Luiz (18) and Javier Hernandez (19).
With Twitter getting more popular amongst younger generations of fans, how will the top 20 look in five years time? Will Ronaldo still be at the top, or will Messi finally have decided to join in with the #Hashtags? Will the new generation of players, like Paul Pogba make their mark on the hit list? We guess we’ll be finding out in 2022!!
*Source – Managing My Life: My Autobiography, Alex Ferguson, 1999, Hodder & Staunton