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OLIVER HOLT: Manchester United’s priorities lie in appearance, not reality

Shortly after Manchester United felt embarrassed by City last week, escalating the debate over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position as coach, United midfielder Bruno Fernandes posted a message on Twitter showing a group of men. laughing out loud.

“Good vibes,” it read. Presumably, the extra 0 was a nod to the number of goals his team had scored that day.

And the number of goals they had scored against Liverpool in the previous home game. The Tweet was greeted with a mixture of misunderstanding, mockery, and anger. And then it was removed.

Manchester United does not seem to trust their players to be themselves on social media

Media CEO Phil Lynch has come under fire since opening up to the club's methods of using players on social media.

Media CEO Phil Lynch has come under fire since opening up to the club's methods of using players on social media.

Media CEO Phil Lynch has come under fire since opening up to the club’s methods of using players on social media.

The photo turned out to be of five Arsenal players, including Gabriel Martinelli and Mohamed Elneny, and was intended for Martinelli’s Twitter account, not Bruno’s.

A social media manager somewhere had made a mistake. That’s what happens when you try to blur the line between appearance and reality. That’s what happens when you designate someone else to create an idealized, cloying, boring, and incredible version of yourself.

United has a media CEO to deal with this kind of thing. His name is Phil Lynch and it seems like his job is to turn players into the people he thinks we want them to be. We really want them to be themselves, but United doesn’t trust them to be themselves.

So they massage her image with such care and meticulousness as if it were a piece of that premium meat you pay for in fancy restaurants. And they throw cynicism over the seasoning.

“We do, twice a day, fan sentiment charts for each of our players,” Lynch said in an interview, instantly breaking the cardinal public relations rule that you should never become history.

We have certain thresholds that alert us when we see fan sentiment going in one direction, be it a personal issue, an on-court performance issue, and when that happens we begin to work with the player and their team individually to try. It counters that narrative a bit.

Gary Neville programmed the media CEO as saying he is 'creating robots on and off the pitch'

Gary Neville programmed the media CEO as saying he is 'creating robots on and off the pitch'

Gary Neville programmed the media CEO as saying he is ‘creating robots on and off the pitch’

So it turns out that most of the gamers’ Twitter feeds are just the online version of a Porsche Cayenne with darkened windows. Another barrier. Another thing to separate players and public. Another thing to keep the followers out, not let them in. Another thing to buy them. It’s false. It is a construction.

There are not many positive aspects of social media, but the idea that it allows direct contact between the player and the fans is one of them. That has always been one of the reasons for its growth.

The kind of social engineering promoted by Lynch and his like destroys that in an instant. When you don’t believe that what you are reading is written by the person who is supposed to have written it, why read it?

Gary Neville has been frank about this image manipulation. He said he was “creating robots on and off the field” and he was right. “Without your own identity, you are nothing,” he said, and he was right.

A tweet destined for Gabriel Martinelli’s account was posted on Bruno Fernandes’ social media page.

United's social media strategy is bridging the gap between players and the public

United's social media strategy is bridging the gap between players and the public

United’s social media strategy is bridging the gap between players and the public

“What we have with footballers is that they want to have their cake and eat it,” he said, “proclaiming that it is authentic when they are the words of their management team.”

At a time when so many footballers – Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Tyrone Mings, Troy Deeney, and others – have emerged as genuine and powerful voices for social change, this attempt to use players as empty vessels for change. Soft corporate language has felt particularly unfortunate and regressive.

Perhaps players who have fallen into this trap and allowed themselves to be manipulated should remember the message of the FA’s handling of the England squad before and during the 2018 World Cup.

Gareth Southgate and a forward-thinking and innovative communications team at the FA broke with tradition and allowed all players to speak to the media in St George’s Park, without the presence of media managers.

Part of the idea was that if a player takes responsibility for their decisions off the court, they will also be better able to take responsibility on the court. It seemed to work.

The result was uniformly positive. The audience listened to the players’ stories or read about them, unadorned and real. They learned about the obstacles that many of them had to overcome and felt that they could relate to them.

Lynch's comments came at the wrong time, especially with United's recent streak in form.

Lynch's comments came at the wrong time, especially with United's recent streak in form.

Lynch’s comments came at the wrong time, especially with United’s recent streak in form.

It was a seminal moment. Or it should have been. But it felt too much of a loss of control for the clubs, which is why men like Lynch got into ‘contrary’ narratives.

I feel a little sorry for Lynch. He was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. To use a phrase you might be familiar with, he didn’t read the room. United fans, in particular, have grown weary of the stream of hackneyed apologies issued by players like Bruno and Harry Maguire on social media after the losses. Someone, somewhere, thought that a ‘narrative’ needed to be ‘countered’.

United players, of course, aren’t the only ones managing their social media accounts. It’s just that because they have so many fans and because the team is underperforming this season, they are under more scrutiny. And there is also the perception that, at United, everything is false. It all has to do with the image. Everything is smoke and mirrors.

United’s board, under outgoing executive vice president Ed Woodward, is obsessed with image. Remember when, for general amusement, they signed Odion Ighalo of Shanghai Shenhua last year and their managing director, Richard Arnold, boasted that the transfer was the main trend on Twitter before Brexit and the impeachment case of President Trump. It was pointed out to him that it was just the main trend because United fans were so shocked.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a luxury signing that could lead to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being fired

Solskjaer's work is under great pressure after recent losses to his biggest rivals

Solskjaer's work is under great pressure after recent losses to his biggest rivals

Solskjaer’s work is under great pressure after recent losses to his biggest rivals

United’s priorities lie in appearance, not reality. That is why the social media hubbub has struck a chord. It sums up everything that has gone wrong at the club since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Louis van Gaal was a technician on the downward slope when he was appointed, but he was a big name, so he got the job. The same applies to José Mourinho.

And the same applies to Cristiano Ronaldo. No matter the age, feel the page views. Ronaldo is one of the greats and it is a privilege to see him play, but it is a luxury in a team that cannot afford it. His signing could have been a commercial masterstroke, but it has stopped United’s resurgence. It is the signing that will see Solskjaer fired.

And when that happens, we’ll all bet on which player gets their apology from Twitter first.

Apology tweets have become the norm for United in the early months of the season.

Apology tweets have become the norm for United in the early months of the season.

Apology tweets have become the norm for United in the early months of the season.

Gerrard didn’t leave the Rangers for a bigger club

Scottish football was good for Steven Gerrard and Steven Gerrard was good for Scottish football. They helped each other. He worked for three and a half years at Ibrox and rebuilt the Rangers to win the league and become true challengers for Celtic again.

As much as some may wish to sponsor the Scottish game, there are few places where Gerrard could have learned as much about management under constant pressure and scrutiny as he did amid the Old Firm rivalry.

I don’t buy into the idea that he went to a bigger club when he went to Aston Villa. But he went to a great club that plays his football in a bigger league with better players and in his home country.

Scottish football was good for Steven Gerrard, but joining Aston Villa shows his ambition

Scottish football was good for Steven Gerrard, but joining Aston Villa shows his ambition

Scottish football was good for Steven Gerrard, but joining Aston Villa shows his ambition

Continuing with Villa’s resurrection represents another great challenge. Gerrard has the authority and intelligence to make it work and his signing is a declaration of ambition on Villa’s part.

As for the idea that Villa represents a “stepping stone” on Gerrard’s journey back to Anfield? Let’s be honest, every job represents a stepping stone for every manager.

If Gerrard is doing well enough to one day earn the chance to become the manager of a club where he is a legend, then he will have had to put Villa in a very good place to get there. If it is successful, it will move on. If he fails, Villa will fire him. Is that how it works.

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