Liverpool’s Ryan Babel has been charged with improper conduct after posting a link to this mocked-up picture on Twitter of referee Howard Webb in a Man United shirt.
Babel had tweeted after Sunday’s FA C up match "And they call him one of the best referees? That's a joke. SMH”
Babel was angry following Webb’s decision to award Man United a first-minute penalty after Berbatov’s dive and then the subsequent red card he gave to Steven Gerrard (which I thought was the correct decision).
Babel later removed the link and apologised to Webb.
That obviously wasn’t good enough for the FA and now Babel faces a fine or a possible ban for his actions. It seems to the picture that has caused them to take action rather than anything he wrote.
This is the first occasion that a Premier League player has been charged over something that he put on a social networking site and sets an interesting question.
Should players be punished for what they put on social networking sites?
The answer to this in my opinion should be ‘no’. With some exceptions.
As far as I’m aware, there are no definite guidelines over Twitter use like there are in the NFL and some other sports. As long as the tweets in question are not threatening or abusive, then I don’t see the harm in it.
Recently, Aldershot striker Marvin Morgan was fined by his club and transfer-listed after he posted the following after being booed when substituted during Shots’ 2-1 defeat to Hereford “'Like to thank the fans who booed me off the pitch. Where's that going to get you! I hope you all die”
Morgan is now on loan at Dagenham.
This is exactly the kind of message that deserves punishment. Morgan, while his message was probably borne out of frustration, completely crossed the line. It is interesting to note that his punishment has come from his club, rather than the FA or the Football League (though this only happened recently so a punishment may be forthcoming).
Contrast that with what Babel did. Babel didn’t threaten anyone or write anything abusive. He merely put up a link to a picture that had been circulating the web for a long time prior to the game. In the picture Webb is wearing an old Man United shirt, so you can safely assume this picture was made by somebody in response to another incident, not Sunday’s.
Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA (the players union) has accused the FA of being “precious” saying "(Webb) gives an early penalty and sends Stevie Gerrard off - the players aren't going to be pleased and, to some extent, it's just (Babel) giving his feelings," Taylor said on Radio Merseyside.
"Where's our sense of humour gone in our game? He's apologised - let's move on.
"From the FA's point of view, they may have got pressured by their own referees to say
'Look, we don't need these attacks on our referees'. But I would think Howard Webb is a big enough and good enough person for him to take it.
"I think they are looking to make an example, bearing in mind what's been said about referees.
"To my mind, and to most footballers' minds, it is the same sort of stuff that flies about every weekend via mobile phones, but they are obviously taking a stance on it. I thought a warning would have been sufficient."
Babel’s manager, Kenny Dalglish, has supported him saying "I think it is only a bit of fun,".
"Maybe I've been out of the game too long but let's see if they can find a sense of humour," he said.
"He apologised straight away”
With the huge wages that many modern-day footballers now earn and the general bubble that surrounds many players, the bond between players and fans is not as strong as it once was as it is harder to for fans to relate to players. Twitter goes some way towards re-establishing that link. If you want to know about the minutiae of a player’s life, chances are it’s there on Twitter for you to read. Also, it’s interesting to get the thoughts and reactions of a player who you may not always get to hear from. That to me is a positive thing, and should be encouraged by the FA, not policed.
In my opinion, the best way the FA could have handled this was to have a word with Babel and remind him that Twitter may not be the best forum for expressing his frustrations, but any further punishment is excessive.
What seems strange to me is that the FA have zeroed in on Babel while seemingly ignoring Theo Walcott’s admission that he dived to try and deceive the referee in Arsenal’s cup game against Leeds. Surely a player admitting they cheated is bringing the game into disrepute and is much more serious an offence than posting a link on Twitter?
Also, there was that moron at Stevenage who decked one of the Stevenage players. Surely that deserves more of the FA’s attention than what happens on Twitter?
What do you think? Should Babel be punished? Should players face punishment for what they write on social networking sites?