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Is the end nigh for football's Twitterati?

By Chris Murphy, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manchester United have banned their players from social-networking sites
  • Cristiano Ronaldo is the latest player to set up an official Twitter account
  • Jozy Altidore has been urging people to help Haiti on his Twitter page
  • Darren Bent launched an infamous Twitter rant at former club Spurs
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(CNN) -- Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo may be the latest high-profile star to sign up to Twitter, but it seems the days of savvy, social-networking footballers could soon be numbered.

Steven Gerrard, Bojan Krkic, Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel, Freddy Adu, Darren Bent and Didier Drogba all have accounts on the site where 55 million people log on every month to share their achievements, photos and annoyances with the rest of the world, but while some of them are genuine, others appear highly dubious.

Now Ronaldo's former club, English Premier League champions Manchester United, have banned their squad from using sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo, after a string of loose-tongued incidents landed players from rival teams in trouble.

The most recent example came from Liverpool's Ryan Babel, who complained on Twitter that he'd received "no explanantion" from manager Rafael Benitez after being left out of a recent game. Within hours of the media picking up on it the post had been removed and Babel's account deleted.

Hull City and United States striker Jozy Altidore has also fallen foul of the very public nature of Twitter when he revealed he'd been axed from an English Premier League game because he was late getting to the stadium.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, was fined for divulging information the club wanted to remain behind closed doors, but his account is still active and he has been using it to urge people to donate to the disaster fund set up in the wake of last week's devastating earthquake.

For many fans social-networking sites are a unique way to access and interact with their heroes, and Lewis PR digital director Eb Adeyeri, thinks Manchester United's ban is an overreaction.

He said: "Millions of football fans from across the globe use social media sites such as Twitter to debate, discuss and interact with their football icons every day. A blanket ban will put a brick wall between the two.

"Social media sites are not the enemy. They are a medium for clubs to better engage with their supporters, wherever they may be. A better policy would be to encourage them to make use of sites like Twitter but draw up a series of robust usage guidelines - so, for example, players can't talk about internal matters or team selection."

Other stars on Twitter include Liverpool captain Gerrard, who has more than 54,000 followers, though doubts remain as to whether the England midfielder's page is genuine or not. If it is, Gerrard used his page to welcome defender Glen Johnson to the club last summer by saying the right-back was a "great bloke and a great player," while Barcelona starlet Bojan Krkic reacted rapturously to news of defender Carlos Puyol's new deal at the Nou Camp: "Puyol agrees to contract extension until 2013 ¡Felicidades!"

Fans of Didier Drogba will have been excited to see he opened an account on Twitter, but they have been waiting a long time for any devastating insights into his life at Chelsea after he posted just once, about how "confusing" it all was.

Juan Pablo Angel seems to have got the hang of it, though. Although the Major League Soccer season has finished for his New York Red Bulls side the Colombian keeps his 2,000 followers updated on his family's movements, and even the health of his pets.

"I have to be careful what I say. The gaffer would kill me if I gave away team secrets."
--Darren Bent

But the most notorious example of a Tweeter getting himself in hot water rests with England and Sunderland forward, and self-confessed 'Tweetaholic', Darren Bent.

He launched a furious tirade of 'Tweets' towards his former club Tottenham when negotiations over his transfer to current club Sunderland broke down in the summer of 2009 due to deadlock over the fee.

A frustrated Bent ranted at Spurs chairman Daniel Levy: "Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f****** around levy [sic]."

Bent was forced to issue an apology for his "inappropriate" comments and was fined by Tottenham, who promptly introduced rules for players at the club with social-networking accounts.

This very public incident hasn't dampened the 25-year-old's enthusiasm for the site though, and he recently had the Web site's logo stitched into his new boots.

Bent told British tabloid newspaper The Sun: "I probably tweet 50 times a day. I'm on it all the time, answering questions, chatting to people, leaving messages and having a bit of banter. I've got about 30,000 followers, which is quite daunting because I have to be careful what I say. I steer clear of tactics and things like that. The gaffer would kill me if I gave away team secrets."