Europe's most followed players bask in the shadow of Barcelona and Real Madrid
We are all aware of the colossal social media shadow cast by Barcelona and Real Madrid over the rest of football. Their reach tips the scales at just over 200m each, aside from Manchester United (111m) the best of the rest can only muster a third of that number.
However, the web of influence of these two Spanish giants does not stop there. Their effect on the player rankings is striking. Figures released from Result Sports show nine stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid in the top 15 European players, with Cristiano Ronaldo (286m) leading the way.
Until the respective departures of Neymar and James Rodrigues a few weeks ago, the entire top six were playing with those two clubs. Certainly, you can argue the top 10 have basked in some sort of reflected glory, having played for one of the two teams in the social media era.
Just over a third of the top 50 are currently with the El Classico teams and another 11 were on their books relatively recently. So over half of this list owe at least some of their following to Real Madrid and Barcelona.
A healthy 20 of Europe’s 50 most followed players currently ply their trade in Spain; a figure that almost matches the representation from England (15) and Germany (7) combined. France have four, Turkey two, Portugal one while, ever the exception, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is currently unattached. The first Italy-based player does not arrive until No52.
It is surprising that only two British players make the top 50 and, one of those, Gareth Bale, plays in Spain. The other is Wayne Rooney. ‘Wazza’ is one of only a handful of players not in the Champions League next season. But like the others, Chicharito (West Ham), Mario Balotelli (Nice) and Robin van Persie (Fenerbache), he has been an outstanding (or in @SimplyMario’s case stand-out) footballing figure in his home country for many years.
The rise of Instagram is apparent. Although Facebook offers the highest reach for 26 players, Instagram is not far behind with 19, and the majority of those are in the top 25. Paul Pogba is the epitome of a young star with social media smarts. His Instagram following is almost twice that of his Facebook and Twitter combined. Only Cesc Fabregas, David de Gea, Chicharito, Radamal Falcao and Sergio Aguero are most popular on Twitter. And, in stereotypical fashion, the bird has a relative lack of resonance with those from the former Eastern Bloc. For example, Croatians Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have 31m followers combined, of which only 1m are on Twitter while Bayern’s Polish striker, Robert Lewandowski, has 876,000 on Twitter out of a total reach of 20.3m. The trend is apparent, if weaker, with German players too.
I’d argue that the following players are ‘batting above their average’ but, like the non-Champions League players, they have iconic status in their home country - James Rodriguez (4th, 78m), Balotelli (33rd, 19.7m), Arda Turan (39th, 16.2m), Mohammad Salah (42nd, 14.5m), Chicharito (50th, 12.5m).
Regarding the last on that list, Result Sports recently demonstrated how the fervour of the Mexican fans deserted Bayer Leverkusen’s social channels when the striker moved to West Ham.
The opposite is true for Marc Bartra (48th, 12.8m), who presumably gained a disproportionate number of fans when he was hospitalised following a terrorist attack on the Borussia Dortmund coach.
It was the most minor silver lining on the deepest, darkest cloud.