The Premier League and the race to Rio

 Manchester-United-Juan-Mata

TFN’s Piers Barber on the Premier League players who will be fighting desperately to make it into their national squads before the season is out.

The Spanish contingent

Spain, current defending World champions and winners of the last two European Championships, are extremely strong contenders for the title of Best Team To Have Ever Played Anywhere In The World Ever, or something like that. Their embarrassment of midfield riches has meant they are once again one of the favourites to walk away with football’s biggest prize in Brazil, yet their strength in depth has also laid on a substantial challenge for some of the nation’s most talented players to even make it on to the plane to South America. Juan Mata, who scored in the Euro 2012 final, felt his place in the national squad under such threat that he recently initiated a move from Chelsea to Manchester United in a quest to secure some playing time in the lead up to the tournament. Jesus Navas at Manchester City and Santi Cazorla at Arsenal, meanwhile, will have to ensure they are on top form throughout the rest of the season if they hope to figure in Brazil.

The suffering Man United players

It’s been a calamitous start to 2014 for Manchester United, who have lost five of their nine games since the turn of the year. Their dramatic post-Alex Ferguson slump has not only put the Old Trafford club in serious danger of failing to qualify for European football next year, but has also threatened to jeopardise several of their highest profile players’ international careers. Marouane Fellaini, for instance, desperately needs to find some form if he is to make the starting line-up for highly fancied Belgium, whilst Nani – who, through a combination of bad form and injury, has barely figured throughout 2013/14 – must also improve if he is to feature for Portugal. Elsewhere, whilst an excellent season last year put Michael Carrick in contention for a starting berth for England in Brazil, a dire first half to the current campaign has cast even his spot on the plane in substantial doubt. Continue reading

Manchester United and Twitter – a social media story

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TFN’s Piers Barber takes a look at Manchester United’s experiments with social media…

For many, the moment that Juan Mata’s transfer to Manchester United became a believable reality was when the club’s new No.8 logged in to Twitter to alter his profile’s biography. “Official Twitter account of @ManUtd’s player” read @JuanMata8 by Saturday afternoon, an alteration which occurred almost in real time as the player was in the process of agreeing terms at Old Trafford.

By the end of the weekend, his profile had been fully optimised to affirm his identity as a fully fledged Old Trafford player. Whilst his new followers – the likes of Tom Cleverley and Alexander Büttner – may not bring the highest levels of entertainment to Juan’s new-look timeline, it is significant that Mata, and those representing him, placed significant importance on maintaining an efficient level of engagement via the social media channel.

The importance Mata placed on hastily evolving his Twitter profile says much about the role that footballers and football clubs are increasingly starting to play within the world of social media. It’s an area of football marketing which only seems set to grow and grow.

After all, Mata’s profile now contains links to not just the club’s official English account, but also its official Spanish language outlet @ManUtd_ES. United also have official accounts directed at their Malaysian, Indonesian, Japan, and Arabic audiences.

Yet wind the clock back half a year and the club’s clout on the micro-blogging site possessed a far different complexion: indeed, United were the last Premier League club to embrace the potential benefits of Twitter. “We were late into social media and were worried a lot about how to approach it as a football club,” United’s Head of Marketing Jonathan Rigby said in 2011. “There will be no official Twitter site until we have satisfied a role for Twitter.” Continue reading