How Social Media Has Become a Tool of Psychological Warfare During the Transfer Window
With Diego Costa flaunting an Atletico Madrid shirt on Instagram this week, it’s clear that social media has become another medium for transfer mind games. So how effective is it?
When it comes to agitating for a transfer, Diego Costa doesn't really do subtext. Having spent much of the season fostering rumours of his desire for a move away from Chelsea, the onset of the summer transfer window has seen him claim that Antonio Conte no longer wants him at the club, a development which some have suggested could damage Chelsea's bargaining position and see the hirsute archvillain leave on his own terms. If this seems like a last nefarious flourish from a footballer who has inspired more theatrical hisses than almost anyone else in recent years – only really rivalled by Luis Suarez, who probably edges it on account of racism and biting people – it can also be seen as a clever use of the press to manoeuvre a move to his preferred destination. If Costa has used the conventional media in his machinations, however, he has also attempted to harness the power of social media and use it to his own gain.
Costa has made it abundantly clear that he would like to rejoin Atletico Madrid, the club with which he won La Liga in 2013-14 and made his name with 64 goals in 135 appearances. This week, in a move about as subtle as selecting "swipe right to hang out" on Tinder Social as a euphemism for "let's have an orgy", Costa posted an Instagram Live of himself dancing through the streets of his hometown while wearing an Atletico strip. Whether this was encouraged by his representatives or Costa made the decision to don the Atleti shirt himself, it was clearly intended as a way of furthering his flirtation with Los Rojiblancos. Costa is the Tinder instigator, Atletico Madrid his most attractive match and Instagram Live the medium through which a group date with Chelsea might be facilitated.
To move swiftly away from Tinder analogies – even if there are often similarities between the way people use Tinder and military techniques for inflicting mental suffering – Costa has seemingly tried to use social media as a tool of psychological warfare. The transfer window is a battle of the minds, and Costa has just launched an offensive from the back of his Instagram-branded tuk-tuk. Assuming that signs of overt dissatisfaction from the Brazilian strengthen the buyer's hand in negotiations, Costa's rogue Instagram video does Atletico Madrid a favour in terms of dictating an acceptable transfer fee. It also reiterates to Chelsea his preferred move and the relative ease with which they can shift him on to Atletico, as well as motivating them to get things done lest he continue to undermine their position and serve as an unwanted distraction for the club.
Costa is not the only player to use social media this way over the summer. Monaco defender Benjamin Mendy, who is reportedly close to signing with Manchester City, posted a photo of himself in Union Jack shorts with the caption "see you soon" on Instagram last week, another less-than-subtle indication that he wants his transfer signed off as soon as possible. When Tiemoue Bakayoko, another Monaco fugitive, was supposedly the target of a bid from Manchester United which surpassed that of his preferred club Chelsea, he responded with a Blues-themed Instagram post while his brother emphasised the point on Snapchat. Again, whether this was down to him or his representatives, it was an example of someone involved in the transfer attempting to use social media as a form of leverage. Bakayoko signed for Chelsea at the weekend, though the exact significance of his brother's Snapchats in proceedings remains unclear.
This phenomenon can also be observed in the way that a footballer's activity on Instagram and Twitter is now relentlessly analysed in the mainstream media, with each and every 'like' and 'follow' scrutinised as clues to a potential transfer. While almost all of this analysis is essentially meaningless in and of itself, social media nonetheless acts as means of communication and manipulation of the press. When Instagram activity translates into headlines and online stories in many of the main media outlets, it's not hard to imagine how players and their representatives might ramp up the psychological pressure on other parties in a transfer. Whether by building anticipation and frustration among the buying club's supporters or compromising the selling club's psychological advantage, it is easier for a footballer to drop clues, hints and statements of discontent on social media than to go with the old-school option and be coincidentally 'spotted' near the club where he intends to move.
But does social media really affect the way that clubs negotiate transfers? Surely, when clubs are discussing the exchange of tens of millions of pounds, a footballer's behaviour on Twitter and Instagram is ultimately incidental to the deal being done? While this might seem like a sane response to the madness of the transfer market in the age of online discourse, there is evidence to suggest that clubs take social media increasingly seriously and believe in its worth with regards to public relations. When football clubs begin to measure their brand value by followers, likes, reach and engagement, a smartphone becomes a powerful tool in the hands of a disgruntled player. In the insane world of modern football, maybe even those dealing in millions can be influenced by Diego Costa's renegade Instagram clips.