Former Liverpool and England star Peter Crouch has criticised public relations-managed social media accounts for "fooling" football fans while calling for players to start "speaking for themselves".
The large majority of high-profile players across Europe now use social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to engage with supporters as football continues to expand its reach online.
However, player accounts are often run by management companies and generic, soulless posts and messages have become more frequent as a result, leaving Crouch concerned that their target audience is being misled.
What's been said?
The ex-striker, who also played for Tottenham and Aston Villa among a host of other English clubs across his 21-year career, said on the Footballco Business Podcast: "I think sometimes fans may be getting manipulated in some way, because these players aren't speaking for themselves and that does frustrate me, worry me.
"I mean, the tagline of my podcast is back stronger because that all derives from the fact that we see the same things on a Saturday. When the players haven't played well or something, a tweet will come out and it was always ‘the fans were terrific’, ‘sorry, we couldn't perform today’, ‘back stronger next week’.
"They're the same three sorts of phrases that get churned out. And I think sometimes it pulls the wool over the fans’ eyes, because I remember being a player and I'd see that exact tweet and I'd think: this player hasn't tried for the last three months.
"You know, this player won't be working hard in training and he won't be doing extra work. You know, he's the first to get off [home].
"And then you'll see him on Instagram, running up his stairs and having a personal trainer in his gym at home. I just think that kind of thing is pulling the wool over the fans’ eyes and then perhaps on the Saturday nights - I saw it first hand on a Saturday - the fans will be like, ‘well, why is this player not playing, you know, look how much work he's put it in’. I can see that they're just fooling people. And it is frustrating."
Who would Crouch like to see on social media?
A number of Manchester United stars have been criticised for posting disingenuous tweets or messages after poor results this season, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
Club legend Gary Neville has accused PR companies of "creating Robots on and off the pitch", and Crouch is now calling for players like Ronaldo to ditch their fake online personas.
The 40-year-old also wants to see more colourful football figures such as Paul Gascoigne have a greater presence on social media, as he added: "I don’t have someone managing my social media. I don’t want to follow someone’s PR man, I want to follow the footballer.
"I want to follow Cristiano Ronaldo, I want to see what he's thinking, what he does, you know, not his social media man. That's why I don't follow a lot of top players because I'd rather listen to someone real, you know, an actual person.
"And I think that's why I think people can see that for me, the decisions that I've made have come from me. And at least then you know that if they go wrong, it's your own fault. No one else's.
"I grew up watching football when there were so many characters, that's what I want to see, people like Gazza and the Crazy Gang, like absolute characters of the game. That's what I want to see. Honestly, personally, I don't particularly want to see something that's managed."
Peter Crouch: Save Our Beautiful Game, available to stream on discovery+ from Tuesday 29th December.