Football is no longer just a sport played by two teams of eleven, with a leather ball on a grass pitch. The events that take place on and off that pitch are talked and tweeted about across the globe. Each team and every player’s standing in the world outside football, is now almost as important as their performance over the 90 minutes of play, and can easily decide whether they will ultimately be a success or failure. The recent UEFA Euro Championships held in France showed just how much the game today is played out on social media. Official UEFA-produced content alone was viewed more than 3 billion times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, while 195 million fans triggered 950 million interactions on Facebook during the month long tournament.
Football players are some of the most widely followed people in the world when it comes to social media, and is a very good measure of just how big a player’s name and profile is, not just among his own club’s supporters, but across the globe. So who are the most popular players currently playing the beautiful game?
RonaldoPortugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after winning the Euro 2016 quarter-final football match between Poland and Portugal at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on June 30, 2016. / AFP / BERTRAND LANGLOIS Photo credit: BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images
No prizes for guessing that the Portugal and Barcelona number 7 comes out on top. It isn’t even close: he is by far and away the most followed, tweeted, talked and written about player in the universe today. As well as having his own website, Ronaldo has over 116 million fans on Facebook, and in excess of 40 million followers on Twitter. Having just captained his international side to their first tournament victory in France, Ronaldo will be keen to carry on where he left off last year at Real Madrid, breaking records, winning silverware and further staking his claim as one of the best players ever to put on a pair of boots.
MessiPhoto Credit: worldfootball.net
The diminutive Argentinian has had a long running rivalry with Ronaldo over who is the best player in Spanish and world football. The jury is still out on that battle, but when it comes to social media, the atomic flea – as he is affectionately known – has to settle for second place. Almost 87 million fans on Facebook is no mean feat however. If he ever takes to Twitter – something that he has so far declined to do, you never know, he may overhaul his Portuguese rival yet. Messi recently announced his retirement from International football, which will come somewhat of a relief for Barcelona fans. They will hope it means the recent winner of a record breaking 5th Ballon d’Or will be able to give 100% to retaining the La Liga title while wrestling the Champions League from bitter rivals Real Madrid – Ronaldo et al.
NeymarNeymar poses for a portrait at Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria on Dec. 2nd, 2013 Photo Credit: inspirationseek.com
As well as being part of the most formidable strike force in football (at Barcelona with fellow Latin Americans Messi and Suarez) Neymar has also become one of the biggest stars in world sport. With almost 60,000,000 fans on Facebook and getting on for 25,000,000 followers on Twitter, the 24-year-old Brazilian is a big deal when it comes to social media, and he is also using it to good effect. Lately, Neymar he has been at the forefront of the #raiseit campaign. It takes its hashtag from poker and it’s a viral challenge directed at fellow Brazilian Ronaldo – and the public – to do better than Neymar and prove it by uploading videos of themselves performing incredible tricks and showing their accuracy and power when controlling not only football balls but also golf balls, drones and eggs.
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaka as he is known to everyone, may be coming to the end of his career but he is still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to social media. The 34-year-old Brazilian has over 32 million fans on Facebook, and almost 26 million followers on Twitter. The attacking midfielder who has notched up 29 international goals and 25 assists in his 92 appearances for his country now plies his trade in the MLS for Orlando City. He will be hoping that they can improve on their inaugural season’s performance next time out, after finishing 14th and hence missing out on the playoffs.
Photo Credit: orlandosentinel.com
Rooney is only the second European on the list, and the first to play in arguably the best league in the world – the English Premier League. The 30 year old Liverpudlian not only has his very own official site, but also interacts with his fans via Facebook and Twitter where he has over 25 million and 13.5 million followers respectively. After another disappointing international tournament, the striker turned midfielder will be looking to put that and 2 dismal domestic seasons behind him in the upcoming EPL campaign. With new coach Jose Mourinho at the helm, Rooney – along with the hundreds of millions of Manchester United fans around the globe – will be hoping that he can help his team be a force in European football once again.
Photo Credit: thesun.co.uk
As the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand (who all still enjoy a massive following on the various social media platforms) have shown, players can still connect with their fans and stay relevant after they hang up their boots. While there is such a passion for the game and its players continue to be the role models for the next generation of Messis, Neymars and Rooneys there is little doubt that social media will play an ever greater role in the lives of footballers and fans alike.