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Why Arsenal boss Wenger is again dragging English football into new era with Twitter

Arsene Wenger: He did it on the pitch and now is leading the way in cyberspace.

Okay, so now isn't the greatest moment in Wenger's Arsenal career, but just as he did 15 years ago upon arriving at Highbury, the Frenchman will again breakthrough barriers and drag the English game into a new era - this time in the social media world.

Joey Barton's tweets brought legal letters and threats of outright bans at Newcastle United, while Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has told his tweeting players to "Get yourself down to the library and read a book. Seriously".

Roy Hodgson, the West Bromwich Albion manager, even blamed those damn "Twitterers" for his demise at Liverpool.

But Wenger is again displaying his ability to look ahead and embrace change (yes, cue the jokes about Cesc's contract). The Frenchman actually has encouraged his players to get themselves on Twitter and engage with their fans.

For all the complaints coming from some managers and certain clubs, Twitter isn't going away and instead is becoming more and more of an influence in daily football culture.

For me, it's been an eye opener. Maybe I'm too cynical, but following the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Jack Wilshere and recognising how much they love the sport, their club and the issues around the game smashes the claim put forward by some that cashed-up Premier League stars have no interest in football beyond their own pay-packet.

Introduced to Twitter by Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney is now in daily contact with fans, giving access to his young followers that couldn't - or wouldn't - be considered before the emergence of the social media phenomenon. Critics say Rooney overstepped the mark when interacting with one young fan over the summer, but following the thread, any sane person could recognise the pair of them were playfully winding eachother up. Rooney got a kick out of it - and the young lad in question could dine out on it for the next year. Far worse has and continues to be exchanged between Premier League stars and Piers Morgan, yet no-one bats an eyelid.

Perhaps Rooney upset some in the press by getting one over them with his hair plugs revelation. Aware he was snapped leaving his hair clinic, rather than wait for the story to break in the morning press, Rooney simply posted a pic of himself showing off his new Barnet. Bang! Case closed, story over and Rooney goes on holiday with his family with a spring in his step.

There's no doubt that Arsenal's players have been able to maintain their relationship with fans after their humiliation at Manchester United thanks to their tweets. Both Wilshere and Robin van Persie recognised the support - via Twitter - those Gooners at Old Trafford gave them throughout the 8-2 humbling.

Okay, it's a stretch to suggest Wenger foresaw this possibility. But he's been rewarded for keeping an open mind. Any tension between the young players and the fans after the Old Trafford debacle has quickly subsided thanks to his players' willingness to interact with their supporters.

Commercially, of course, those minding Premier League stars can see the benefits. Ferdinand now has almost 1.5 million fans following him - he's able to promote wide-ranging business interests like his online #5 magazine, his iPhone app and Rosso restaurant. But it goes beyond that. The fans would soon drop off if he treated it purely as a commercial exercise. Instead, the United defender is commenting on games, his opinion on rival players, even his blow-ups with certain journalists! It's great fun, it provides good copy and turns on its head the cynical opinion of many (myself included) that the current day player is only out for No1.

Wenger summed it up well at the end of last season, "We are thinking about how to use it the best way.

"It can be very positive because it can be a good communication for the players with the fans which doesn't exist anymore."

He's spot on. As unlikely as it seems to some, Twitter has taken the game back to a time when there was greater interaction between players and fans. It's helped the multi-millionaires re-connect with their supporters - and that can only be a good thing for the sport.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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