Forget the WAG, Bentley or Ballon D’or, the must have accessory for today’s footballer is a Twitter account with more followers than the Pope or the Dalai Llama.
Twitter gets fans closer to the dressing room, with snapshots of players’ lifestyles, gossip on teammates and opponents, as well as hints on training methods and diet for amateurs.
Amid controversial headlines, many have questioned whether players should get involved in social media in the first place, yet there have been positive outcomes. Many players use Twitter to promote charitable causes and highlight issues such as online safety, bullying and racism in sport.
Promotion through Twitter, Facebook and social media can strengthen a player’s appeal to potential sponsors, and in the age of “image rights” and “Galácticos;” having tens of millions of followers can open the door to lucrative transfer opportunities.
Whilst Joey Barton and Mario Ballotelli may create headlines in the UK’s tabloids, they still have some way to go to trouble the game’s top influencers. Dominated by players with connections to Real Madrid and Barcelona; Twitter’s top 20 footballers by number of followers may surprise fans of the Premier League.
WHAT IS TWITTER ANYWAY?
In case you’ve been living on the moon, Twitter is a social media service which allows users to send and read short 140 character messages or “tweets.”
With 284 million active monthly users sending 500 million tweets per day, Twitter has risen with the growth of smartphones, changing the way the world interacts with news and media.
Top 20 Footballers on Twitter by Number of Followers
20. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid and Spain, 5.1m followers, @SergioRamos
Regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, Ramos is the youngest European player to have reached 100 caps for his country.
19. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid and Wales, 5.65m, @GarethBale11
One of just 3 players on the list who can call on English as his mother-tongue, the Welsh wizard and former Tottenham man scored as Real completed La Décima in his first season in Spain.
18. David Luiz, Paris Saint Germain and Brazil, 5.66m, @DavidLuiz_4
The former Chelsea man moved to PSG for big money this summer and the Sideshow Bob lookalike is one of 5 Brazilians in Twitter’s top 20.
17. Daniel Alves, Barcelona and Brazil, 5.8m, @DaniAlvesD2
Barça right-back Alves has tackled social issues as well as opponents during his time in La Liga. His reaction to having a banana thrown at him during a match at Villarreal, demonstrated the man’s character and drew global support and admiration .
16. James Rodríguez, Real Madrid and Colombia, 5.9m, @jamesdrodriguez
“Ha-mez” won the Golden Boot award at the 2014 World Cup and became Real Madrid’s latest in a long line of Galácticos when he joined the club from Monaco. With an eye for the spectacular, boys named James the world over have pestered their parents for his replica shirt.
15. Rio Ferdinand, Queens Park Rangers and England, 6m, @rioferdy5
Controversies including a recent three-match suspension for an inappropriate tweet aside, the former England and Manchester United captain has built a reputation as a thoughtful pundit and is one of the game’s most lively and prolific tweeters.
14. Robin van Persie, Manchester United and Holland, 6.7m, @Persie_Official
The striker showcases the work of charities as well as marketing promos for his sponsors. Typical United related tweet, “Massive 3 points tonight. Want to thank the away fans for your amazing support, you were amazing!”
13. Carles Puyol, Barcelona and Spain, 7.3m, @Carles5puyol
The now retired one club man made 100 appearances for Spain (and 6 for Catalonia). Known for his tenacious qualities on the pitch, Puyol is one of six Spanish footballers to make the top 20.
12. Radamel Falcao, Manchester United and Colombia, 7.4m, @FALCAO
On loan from French side Monaco, when fit, el Tigre is among the world’s most feared strikers.
11. Cesc Fàbregas Soler, Chelsea and Spain, 7.5m, @cesc4official
A product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, who developed under Wenger’s stewardship at Arsenal before returning to the Camp Nou. Now at Chelsea, Fabregas exploits the worldwide appeal of the Premier League and La Liga.
10. Sergio “Kun” Aguero, Manchester City and Argentina, 7.7m, @aguerosergiokun
Diego Maradona’s son in law has made dramatic last-minute winners his speciality, and further demonstrates Twitter’s love affair with the Spanish language.
9. Xabi Alonso, Bayern Munich and Spain, 8.4m, @XabiAlonso
How many men can carry off a ginger beard let alone command a midfield with such aplomb? Few players are more decorated than the former Liverpool and Real Madrid hero now playing for German giants Bayern.
8. Mesut Özil, Arsenal and Germany, 8.5m, @MesutOzil1088
Another former Real Madrid player, the Gunners midfielder is the only German player in the top 20 despite his countrymen’s stellar year. A master of the 2014 trend for the selfie, Özil posted shots to celebrate his FA Cup and World Cup successes.
7. Gerard Piqué, Barcelona and Spain, 9.8m, @3gerardpique
Ok, he plays for Barcelona and has won everything in the game but the fact his wife has 18 million more followers than the former Manchester United defender shows that no man can have life all his own way. Then again his wife is Shakira.
6. Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona and Spain, 10m, @andresiniesta8
Another master from La Masia, Barcelona’s celebrated production line of talent, Iniesta scored the goal that won the 2010 World Cup. Also produces his own wine and stepped in to save boyhood club Albacete from financial crisis in 2013.
5. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United and England, 10.2m, @WayneRooney
Captain for club and country, the proud father of two tweets about a wide range of subjects and is the top English player on the list. Also sells a few pairs of Nike boots.
4. Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Querétaro and Brazil, 11.1m, @10Ronaldinho
The man who lobbed Seaman from outside the box is still living the good life, hanging out with Snoop Dogg and playing his football in Mexico. Another player with El Clásico links, he is widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation.
3. Neymar Jr, Barcelona and Brazil, 15.5m, @neymarjr
Carried the weight of the host nation’s expectation into the World Cup before injury curtailed his tournament. Named by Dunga as Brazil’s next captain, the former Santos man has a long list of endorsements and sponsorship deals. All the tricks and flicks in the world. Absolutely terrible barnet.
2. Kaka, Orlando City and Brazil, 21.5m, @KAKA
A devout Christian, Kaka uses Twitter to celebrate his faith as well as promote his charitable work. The Brazilian World Cup winner is another Real Madrid old-boy who won the Ballon D’or in 2007. Kaka now plays in the MLS for expansion franchise Orlando City.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid and Portugal, 31.7m, @Cristiano
Cristiano Ronaldo is the Galáctico of all Galácticos. The Portuguese’s goal-scoring exploits for club and country have made him one of the world’s most recognisable figures. Only 12 other people on Planet Earth have a greater Twitter following than the 2013 Ballon D’Or winner, one of them is Barrack Obama, another is Justin Bieber. With a further 100m Facebook “likes,” the potential market for Ronaldo’s boots and pants is truly staggering.