Ryan Babel has been charged with improper conduct by the FA after he posted a doctored image of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt on Twitter.
Babel’s “tweet” was of course, outrageous. The winger tried to absolve himself of blame by calling it an “emotional response” but an emotional response is surely shouting or lashing out; it doesn’t cover finding a doctored image and logging on to a computer or mobile device to pass it on. Henry Winter of the Telegraph feels Babel shouldn’t be punished – I obviously sit with bias, as a United supporter, but this was the second time in three weeks that a player has used Twitter to accuse a referee of bias towards United. Arsenal reserve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny accused United of getting favourable decisions and voiced his “frustration” – minutes later, United were denied a clear penalty, and hours later, his side were the beneficiary of “fortunate officiating” at Birmingham on two seperate occasions.
Were Szczesny’s comments not as bad as Babels? They certainly gave a fascinating insight into the mentality of Arsenal’s players, suggesting it’s a widespread internal opinion that should be shared by all outside of the club, too. Certainly, awful reporting such as this completely biased account from Football365 doesn’t help matters. I asked former United players Kevin Pilkington and David May – both of whom use Twitter – how they feel about the comments and the punishment.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish tried to diffuse the Babel situation by trying to paint it in a humorous light – saying “I don’t think he’s clever enough technically to have drawn that up himself” – but do players have a responsibility over social networking sites such as Twitter to display more professionalism? Szczesny is 20 years old and has been at Arsenal since 2006, more than enough time for us to surmise that when he speaks with such misdirected anger “How can you not get frustrated with decitions (sic) like that ALWAYS going Man Utds way?!” then it’s very much representative of the culture within that club.
Talk of United being the beneficiaries of decisons is factually inaccurate (as described in this excellent blog by Steph over at FUB) but the accusation is nothing new.
This inaccurate perception is put across by popular online media sources until it becomes vacuous truth – take this snippet from F365 –
– disregarding how ridiculously flimsy this is, to completely neglect to mention Emmanuel Adebayor punching the ball into the net for Arsenal’s goal is reporting with a clear agenda. Elsewhere in the article they describe the handball by Gael Clichy earlier this season as “imaginary” and dismiss Chamakh’s first half indiscretion that should have lead to a penalty.
Fair enough; I suppose. We’ve come to accept this. Even when Mike Dean – previously removed from the 2006 FA Cup Final due to fear over his impartiality where Liverpool are concerned – intervened to help Chelsea win the title last season (or, more pertinently, stop United getting a 19th), no-one questioned his bias.
When this moves into players using a social media platform, though, it crosses a line. These are public statements – monitored by the media, supporters, and now, obviously, the FA. Babel isn’t the only Liverpool connection to have embarrassed themselves on Twitter over the weekend. Son of Kenny Dalglish, Paul, tweeted “‘Howard Webb MBE. Manc of the Busby Empire. Just stopped for lunch and saw the score. Absolutely sick. Hate losing to them. Fergie has his puppet Howard Webb on a piece of string!”
Before the game, Glen Johnson was busy using the social networking site abusing Paul Merson for having the temerity to say defending wasn’t a strong card of the Liverpool full back. Johnson said “‘Comments from alcoholic drug abusers are not really gonna upset me and who is Paul Merson to judge players, he was average at the best of times. The only reason he’s on that show is coz he gambled all his money away. The clown!’”
Other high profile users of Twitter include Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas – who, it has to be said, is one of the more well behaved, even if he did question consistency of referees recently – and Darren Bent, who infamously went on a foul mouthed rant to try and force through his move to Sunderand.
United have representatives on Twitter; Rio Ferdinand has proved to be popular and has not – as yet – behaved inappropriately. Tom Cleverley has a Facebook account where he talks about his season and steers clear of abusing opponents. David May, the former Manchester United defender, uses Twitter and Facebook to promote United Nights and engages in the banter that you would expect from an ex-pro.
David told me that he completely agrees with the FA charge with Babel. “Yes, they’re right”, he said. “Current players have a responsibility to behave professionally on Twitter/Facebook. They’re role models for our future kids in the sport”.
He couldn’t resist a dig at the Liverpool winger, saying “He (Babel) should concentrate on helping Liverpool out of the position they’re in rather than slag off referees!”
Kevin Pilkington – formerly of United, currently at Mansfield on loan from Notts County, agrees. Kevin has a Twitter account and engages in light hearted banter with supporters. He said “I do believe that we should act responsibly because what you say you know is going into the public domain. We all have our opinions but some we should keep to ourselves. They (Szczesny and Babel) must have realised what they were saying was going to get picked up by journalists?”
Kevin believes, in the same light, Babel only has himself to blame for the charge. “Babel shouldn’t have put that picture on Twitter. Maybe he has done it as a bit of fun but he must have known that it could get him into trouble. You could say the FA are being a bit harsh on him but he hasn’t done himself any favours.”
I asked Kevin if he, personally, felt he had a duty to remain professionally even on a social networking site like Twitter. “Yes definitely,” he answered. “I know that there are journalists who follow my account so I try not to put things on there that could get me in trouble. Don’t get me wrong sometimes you want to!”
Kevin’s comments certainly raise an interesting point; Babel’s actions were no worse than the average fan says in a pub argument and even on Twitter. But he (and Szczesny, too) are not the average fan. By questioning the integrity of an official they are clearly behaving inappropriately because of their profession. It could be argued Babel was unlucky, but it could equally be argued that Szczesny is a very lucky boy, too.