It is sometimes said a rumour is half away around the world before the truth has got its boots on.
In a world dominated by social media the tables have been dramatically turned. Those in the public eye no longer have the luxury of denying a rumour.
Truth is a beast fed by a voracious appetite for news. Pictures and video clips can be uploaded and flashed across a million mobiles in a matter of seconds. So why don’t our footballers get it?
Revelations that Manuel Lanzini broke Covid rules at Christmas is bitterly disappointing; not only because it tarnishes the club’s reputation, but it also sets an appalling example to those who see him as a hero.
Footballers don’t ask to be role models but their prominence attracts a higher standard of behaviour.
Lanzini joined Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon in a photo that spread like wildfire on social media.
West Ham players humiliating themselves online seems to be an annual event. In December 2019, Michail Antonio crashed his Lamborghini into a neighbour’s front garden.
He climbed from the vehicle dressed as a snowman in a scene reminiscent of the Fast Show. It was emblematic of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign as manager who walked shortly afterwards.
Film of the aftermath was gleefully posted online and Antonio’s embarrassment was complete. In all fairness, no lasting damage was done and the police took no action. Nobody leads a perfect life and Antonio had learnt his lesson.
However, events 12 months later have consequences that are not so easily dismissed. David Moyes leapt to the defence of Lanzini claiming that footballers should not be picked on as ‘we all know people who have broken the rules’.
Maybe so, but there is an important distinction between footballers and the rest of us. The club has an army of medical professionals on the payroll; they can monitor every aspect of a player’s fitness, organise Covid testing and ensure protocols are properly understood.
Lanzini and his fellow miscreants have absolutely no excuse for breaking the rules. His actions endangered the welfare of countless others; and no amount of donations to a food bank can alter the basic fact.
Lanzini’s meek response was in contrast to the Spurs trio who each received a fine for their actions.
It’s not entirely clear who paid the £10,000 fine for staging a gathering of more than 15 people; or if it was imposed at all. But they could lose more money down the sofa every day.
Do footballers get a free pass because of the game’s morale-boosting importance? There must be consequences from the actions of players if the game is to maintain integrity and avoid a further shutdown.
They need a punishment that dents a bit more than their ego. Breaking Covid rules must be the equivalent to picking up a red card during the game; so why not implement the same penalty.
In January 2018, Arthur Masuaku rightly received a six-match ban for spitting at Wigan defender Nick Powell. A similar ban with a hefty fine might concentrate Lanzini’s mind should he entertain the thought again.
If players can’t behave themselves then clubs and the football authorities need to act more decisively.
Moreover, the idea that players receive the vaccine before others is a liberty of almost biblical proportions.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche believed fast track vaccinations would release funds for NHS use. I don’t buy this, not only because the effect would be marginal but would give players even more excuse if they can jump the queue.
They wait their turn like everyone else and play the game both on and off the pitch. The former looked to be a distant dream if recent FA Cup matches give any indication.
Players merrily piled on top of each other to celebrate a goal without a thought for social distancing.
The PR malfunction suffered by Antonio and Lanzini brings the general conduct of footballers into sharp focus.
We can laugh at Antonio crashing a £210,000 vehicle into a dustbin shed because we all do silly things at some point in our lives. If only that was as bad as it got.
But Lanzini has shifted the behaviour switch from ‘embarrassing’ to ‘dangerous’. The fact it’s captured in living colour for immediate consumption just makes it worse.
No one can fly under the radar in glorious anonymity now. Privacy is a fast disappearing commodity as we all bathe in some form of celebrity.
Our lives are placed under a microscope in the quest for social affirmation. For most people such recognition is transient and regulated by choice.
But the corporate world of Premier League football sends players into a different orbit. And the level of scrutiny is fuelled by that little device we keep in our back pocket. The smartphone can rapidly disseminate every gaff, trip and stumble.
Social media has a key role to play in exposing those who think they’re above the law. Lanzini broke the first rule of rule breaking; he got caught.
But how many more have got away with it? By the time you read this article the chances are that another footballer will have been trapped by our new eyes and ears.
And quite right too – footballers have to earn our respect and make us proud they wear our club’s shirt.