Former Manchester United ace Gary Neville has taken to Twitter to criticise the way the Old Trafford club uses social media to gauge fan sentiment about the players.
Neville has a recent form for expressing disdain about the way squad members allow their accounts to be handled by media teams instead of the players themselves.
As reported by the Daily Mail, he’s followed up that broadside by attacking United CEO of Media, Phil Lynch’s comments about how the club performs fan analysis to direct online activity.
Lynch had said, “Each one of these players are individuals. Some want charity focus, some want family focus, some want just football focus and I think it’s really about trying to understand what narrative they want to tell and then we’re here to support that narrative.”
He continues, “We pull, twice a day, fan sentiment graphs for every one of our players. We have certain thresholds that alert us when we see fan sentiment going one way – be that a personal issue, an on-pitch performance issue and when that happens, we then start to work with the player and his team individually to try and counter that narrative a little bit.
“In a lot of cases it is just emotion and it comes off and it calms down anyway. But we do spend a lot of time on what we call social media monitoring and tracking and then working specifically with each individual player but it’s 25 bespoke processes.
“It’s not ‘Hey, here’s the game plan and it’s going to work for all of you’.”
It hardly surprising that a club the size of United takes fan opinion seriously, but the timing of the comments – coming hot on the heels of the weekend’s dismal derby failure – certainly makes player apologies ring hollow.
Neville reacted indignantly to the video, Tweeting: Creating Robots on and off the pitch! Get the f@@k away from them. It’s a football club. He makes controlling fans sound like he’s trying to win a general election!
Creating Robots on and off the pitch! Get the f@@k away from them . It’s a football club. He makes controlling fans sound like he’s trying to win a general election! 😡 https://t.co/dBbWbqby1t
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) November 7, 2021
Devastating for the players this video ! A senior club employee stating publicly that the club and players social media teams are attempting to control their own fans is social engineering not comms advice. All the work Rashford and others have done is diminished by this video! https://t.co/e9ROKX4mJ7
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) November 8, 2021
And, while the former right-back has found himself at odds with some sections of the fanbase over the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he’s probably on safer ground here.
It seems sensible that the club wants to know what fans are saying online. Well, as long as that includes paying close attention to the weight of ill-feeling about the current direction of the team.
While it might seem cynical that fan opinion is partly manipulated by experts, football is a big-money business, so letting players speak their minds could lead to trouble. The unfairly treated Edinson Cavani could vouch for that.
Fans will be hoping the board is as attentive regarding the team’s on-pitch woes as they are to fan tweets.