x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Premier League footballers are all in a twitter

Forget about social networking, footballers should take up hobbies where they are less likely to get into trouble.

Sir Alex Ferguson, right, has given Wayne Rooney and his teammates a bit of grandfatherly advice this week - turn off your computers and Blackberries and pick up a good book instead.
Sir Alex Ferguson, right, has given Wayne Rooney and his teammates a bit of grandfatherly advice this week - turn off your computers and Blackberries and pick up a good book instead.

Oh, to be a fly on a Manchester United dressing room wall.

Not when they have just lost, obviously, as that would be too dangerous. You may be at risk from falling plaster, as any Wembley-based flies during the FA Cup semi-final weekend might testify.

But the fly in me would love to have been nestled somewhere safe and undisturbed - Michael Owen's boots, perhaps, or the empty locker where Darron Gibson planned to store his fan mail - when Sir Alex Ferguson delivered his judgement on the players' use of Twitter.

The issue was brought to a head after Wayne Rooney was involved in a colourful exchange on the micro-blogging site with a moronic Liverpool fan who offered to "smash ya head in with a pitchin wedge and bury ya with a ballast fork".

To which the official golfing answer would be: "Not on the green, I hope, as it will play havoc with the drainage. And there'll be a one-stroke penalty if you ground the wedge before impact."

Instead, Rooney adopted the official response of his birth city and, funnily enough, my own suggested method of dealing with such idiots, as laid out in this column last week: a "straightener". He invited the fan to meet up at United's training ground, where he would "put u asleep within 10 seconds u little girl".

Way to get the Coke guys back on side, Wazza!

Sir Alex's assessment of Twitter was as refreshingly honest and humanising as Rooney's unguarded banter. Sounding every one of his 69 years, the manager said: "I don't understand it. There are a million things you can do with your life other than that. Go to the library and read a book."

I would love to have seen the players' face the moment that bombshell was dropped, although I guess it may have taken some time to explain the concept of a "library" to players who grew up in the impoverished developing world, and the concept of a "book" to those who grew up in the UK.

Still, Ferguson's grandfatherly advice has much merit. With the long and tedious summer ahead, all professional footballers should get themselves a proper hobby, beyond the traditional options of playing computer games or seeking legal injunctions.

• Reading. Take Sir Alex's advice, head to your nearest library and work your way through the classics. (Spoiler alert: Spot eventually finds his ball. It was in the toy box.)

• Writing. Why condense your innermost thoughts to a restrictive 140 characters on Twitter? Behold the glory of a blank sheet of paper, and allow your philosophies free rein. Pad it out a bit and you might reach 300 characters.

• Darts. If playing with Mario Balotelli, use the Velcro version.

• Travel. The world is your oyster, so pick a destination and enjoy yourself. I believe South Africa is nice at this time of year. Certainly nicer than it was this time of last year.

• Cookery. How nice it would be to read about a footballer organising an actual roast.

• Or, that old favourite, golf. That would be on a course, Wayne, not a car park. And when we talk of giving your opponent a handicap, that is NOT an invitation to follow up your promise to the Liverpool fan.

In the battle of willpower against statistics it’s Djokovic 40, Wenger love

Speaking of summer breaks, it looks like Arsene Wenger will spend his preparing excuses for next season’s failure.

The Arsenal manager has compiled a dossier of scientific evidence and playing statistics to prove that Jack Wilshere, his gifted midfielder, is likely to get injured around September as a result of playing for the England Under 21s next month.

My suggestion is that Wenger visits his homeland to watch some tennis at the Roland Garros.

Not only is this year’s French Open a mouth-watering prospect, but one look at Novak Djokovic should convince Wenger to stop moaning about player fatigue. OK, so tennis players do not kick each other – not on court, at least, although Andy Murray looks angry enough to launch an Eric Cantona-esque flying kung-fu kick any second – but it always looks more strenuous than football to my untrained eye.

And, since Monsieur Wenger likes stats, here are Djokovic’s. He has played seven tournaments since the season began, and won them all. That is 37 competitive matches in four months. It takes a whole season to play 38 Premier League matches!

Nor were many of those 37 matches, or 88 sets, against lame ducks. He has beaten Rafael Nadal in four finals, two of which saw him come back from a set down. He has also beaten Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

The man is a phenomenon. Perhaps, if he wanted to, Djokovic could prepare a dossier of evidence to suggest that he, too, faces imminent and inevitable physical burnout, like Jack Wilshere.

But he does not. Instead, he just goes out there and keeps on winning, sometimes by what looks like sheer willpower – an attribute difficult to quantify in a dossier of stats, but instantly recognisable to sports fans. He has not won the French Open before but I sincerely hope he does. Especially if Wenger is watching.