Leeds United: Players need to know when silence is golden - Matteo

My very first recollection of facing the media as a professional footballer was when Robbie Fowler and I were interviewed on Match of the Day after a routine Liverpool win.

The experience was quite surreal, for me anyway. I'd grown up watching Match of the Day, desperately trying to keep my eyes open while my dad tried to send me off to bed. All of a sudden, you're in front of the camera, repeating the sort of comments you listened to as a kid.

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At the end of the interview the two of us were asked "so how will a couple of young bachelors be celebrating tonight?" Without really thinking, I said "by watching Match of the Day." That was the truth as it happens. My Saturday nights as a junior player were usually spent in front of the telly.

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The staff at Liverpool must have been delighted with my answer, if not a bit relieved. Ask that question to a hundred footballers now and a few would say that they're off for an evening of lager, women and whatever else.

Footballers are prone to speaking before they think and then dealing with the consequences for days on end. The risk of talking out of turn is bigger now than ever before.

That's not solely down to Twitter, Facebook and the like. The media in general have more appetite for football than they did 15 years ago and more scope to cover it. Even now, players find themselves in front of the Football Association for the old traditional reason – comments made to the press. But more and more are stumbling into the trap of using

social networking sites to vent their frustration.

In the case of Twitter, I'm in two minds about its merits. On one hand it's a really good way for supporters to interact with players who they would otherwise have no contract with. Robbie Savage and Rio Ferdinand are good examples of lads who post regularly without crossing the line.

But part of me feels that Twitter is an accident waiting to happen – a way of players kicking off without really considering what they're saying or what the fall-out might be.

Take Marvin Morgan, the Aldershot striker. What did he expect to happen after Tweeting 'I hope you all die' to supporters who booed him from the field? That's very wrong in so many ways and it's a public relations nightmare for the club. No amount of spin is going to sweep an insult like that under the carpet.

A more recent example was Ryan Babel posting a mocked-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt. I'm sure his Tweet was tongue-in-cheek and you can't compare it to Marvin Morgan's comment, but all Babel has done is expose himself to the anger and the power of the FA. At a time when Liverpool are embattled, they really don't need hassle like that.

It won't be long before clubs, press officers and managers start asking themselves whether members of their squads should be banned from social networking. Some have probably thought about it already.

In my opinion, prohibition is a step too far; it's like nannying grown adults who are ultimately paid to play football and play it well. But at the same time, it's totally unacceptable for a footballer to use Twitter and Facebook without some care and common sense.

Media training is now an essential part of a career in football. In the summer after Stoke City got promoted to the Premier League, Tony Pulis made a point of inviting a few local reporters to the Britannia Stadium to help the young lads to get used to answering easy and difficult

questions.

He realised that the media presence around the club was about to go through the roof. It was amazing to hear certain players struggle through interviews or give inappropriate answers so the process helped them to understand what to say, when to say it and where to draw the line.

I wouldn't say it's necessary for sportsmen to sit on the fence. In fact, it's important to give an honest opinion. But I always took the view that it was stupid to get involved in controversies that didn't really exist or which didn't involve you at all. That's the time for a straight bat or a simple "no comment".

In my early days, it was drummed into me by Liverpool that I had a responsibility to promote the club and protect its image. That meant not only talking highly of Liverpool but of talking respectfully about other clubs and other people.

At the end of the day, a mouthy or obnoxious player does not reflect well on his employers. The popularity of Twitter means we've not seen the last of these controversies, but the penny will drop eventually.

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PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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