Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Jerome Boateng. Are you surprised that you know these names, that you can even associate faces and stories with them? And now don't tell me that you can also relate to the names Helmut Haller, Uwe Bein or David Alaba. In fact, the names of footballers are now familiar even to people who really have nothing to do with football. On the one hand, this is due to the increased media frequency - there are many more information channels than in the past and these channels all have to be filled somehow.
Footballers are a popular subject. In an age when every amateur actor in an early evening series is hyped up as a star, successful footballers are welcome fodder for editors. But that's only part of the explanation for why ball kickers have suddenly become ubiquitous in recent years.
Professional footballers do a lot of work off the pitchInthe beginning, there was an England international who delighted football fans with his vision, accurate passing and deftly kicked free kicks. But it wasn't until David Beckham discovered men's hairstyles for himself, flaunting a new hairstyle at almost every public appearance, that his popularity grew far beyond football.
Suddenly even women's magazines were talking about football and suddenly someone who actually only played football well became a trendsetter. Today you can see fancy hairstyles on every football pitch, plus lots of imaginative and fancy tattoos and when the players come for the post-match interview, they sometimes wear clothes that are primarily reminiscent of birds of paradise. Professionals and those who want to be, work hard to create their own brand. Social media is a must, as are high-profile appearances at events like movie premieres or Fashion Week.
In doing so, they are constantly creating new media exposure for themselves, which can pay off in hard cash, such as lucrative advertising contracts.
What is all this doing to football?The new fashion consciousness among footballers has many facets and even more critics. Fans and pundits who cite an athlete's flamboyant hairstyle for criticism after a player's weak performance are quite prevalent in a sport that, for all its glamour, still has a deeply down-to-earth side. However, really noticeable, persistent deteriorations in the performance of particularly well-styled players have yet to be observed in this form. But a player who has mastered the publicity game makes himself interesting to fans and media alike.
And since clubs today earn their income less and less from ticket sales and more from the sale of fan merchandise and TV rights, they might be inclined to overlook one or two sporting weaknesses and sign a player who can generate mass outside interest. And yet, we're still miles away from football being purely a popularity contest, and the real fans wouldn't let that happen either. More likely, the presence of athletes off the pitch is more likely to generate interest in football itself among even more people - and that's a real plus for everyone then, isn't it?.