Reading the replies to Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford’s social media activity has made me extremely uncomfortable this last month.
Frustrated Man United fans have been raging at the pair’s fashion sense, Instagram antics, and general personalities.
Paul Pogba has long suffered the same treatment from a certain section of the fan base.
Many believe their personas are evidence of the club’s problem, an explanation as to why Man United finished the season as the only club in the Premier League’s ‘top six’ not to feature in at least one major final.
Personally, I don’t think that’s right.
You only have to look at the club’s recent history to see that the celebrity of players does not hinder success.
Lee Sharpe used to celebrate by pretending the corner flag was a microphone in a display considerably more self-indulgent than Pogba’s dab or Lingard’s jig.
Paul Ince wanted everyone to call him ‘the Guv’nor’ and would have drained your data in a flash if Instagram existed in the early 90s.
Dwight Yorke had a baby with Britain’s most famous glamour model.
David Beckham married a Spice Girl and stepped out in a sarong en route to global fame on an unprecedented scale for an English footballer.
Not long after serving an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test, Rio Ferdinand presented a prank show in which he ‘merked’ fellow professionals.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, the list goes on.
I hear your reply; the difference between these legends and the modern crop is that the latter performed consistently, to a high level, and hoarded trophies in the process.
That’s exactly my point.
When results are going well, the personal lives of the players is not an issue — crack on lads, good to see you enjoying yourselves, top stuff.
But when results are not going well, suddenly the players’ social media activity is a poison that is corrupting the club from within.
The hypocrisy is scandalous.
Either you care what the players are like in everyday life, or you don’t.
Their form, or the club’s league position, shouldn’t affect your opinion on the matter.
Yes, in extreme cases, playing careers can be derailed by destructive personal lives.
But I find it hard to believe anyone truly believes this is the case with Pogba, Rashford or Lingard.
A few selfies does not equate to the temptations and pitfalls of alcohol or other excesses.
Is it not more likely that Lingard is simply not as good at football as Beckham?
And whether he spends every waking moment on Instagram or throws his phone in the bin, that will always be the case.
Does that mean he deserves personal abuse for enjoying the blessed life of a professional footballer? I don’t think so.
I understand criticism of the squad’s collective ability and desire on matchdays.
And I wholeheartedly agree with criticism of the club’s recent recruitment, top-level structure, and managerial appointments.
But Lingard repeating the word ‘beans’? Come on…
When results are lean, fans of any club tend to see everything in a negative light, and vice versa.
United fans loved the J Lingz™ shtick when he made the Emirates his dance floor, just like they loved Becks’ I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shorts celebrations during the Treble-winning season.
This is natural, but I wish those guilty of some genuinely abusive tweets would acknowledge the fickle ground upon which their argument stands.
I despise your toxic personality… except when the football club I support are functioning well.
I’m not saying Pogba, Rashford or Lingard should be wholly immune from criticism, or any other player for that matter.
The former’s tracking (or lack of) for Cardiff’s second goal at Old Trafford during the last game of the Premier League season was shameful.
Rashford needs to improve his free-kicks and left-foot finishing.
Are Lingard’s goal contribution stats on par with what you’d expect from a 26-year-old ‘top six’ attacking midfielder? No.
But I’m uneasy with the suggestion their faults are rooted in a greater interest in social media than winning games for Man United.
It’s an easy conclusion to draw in 2019, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.