Piers Morgan freely admits his first year as Larry King's heir apparent could have gone better but there is another endeavor in which the controversial talk-show host is having supreme success.
The 46-year-old Brit, who hosts Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN, has spent much of the past year wasting no opportunity to poke fun and taunt the players of Manchester United on Twitter with the stated intention of getting under their skin.
Morgan is a huge fan of United's English Premier League rival Arsenal, and regularly takes great delight in teasing players such as Wayne Rooney, whom he calls "Shrek" and often-injured Rio Ferdinand ("Sicknote"), regularly sparking angry responses.
With United's season lurching from one mini-crisis to another and the club in danger of losing its grip on the English Premier League title, Morgan’s Tweeting has gone into overdrive.
While Morgan also exchanges Tweet messages with the England cricket team, as well as former heavyweight boxing champions Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, the United squad is by far his favorite target.
"Rio Ferdinand thinks of himself as the self-appointed King of Twitter," Morgan wrote in his Daily Mail column. "I dubbed him 'Sicknote' and he responded by labelling me 'Moobs' -- an unnecessarily cruel jibe about my torso, which unfortunately made me and everyone else laugh out loud. Mainly for its obvious accuracy. Truth hurts like nothing else on Twitter.
"Rio's problem, like all sportsmen, is that his Twitter power is very dependent on his form. When he got skinned repeatedly by Lionel Messi last season, I was able to drag out the 'Messi-cre' hashtag in tweets to him for about six months.
"And I've noticed that his cocky, brash tweeting style has taken a definitely more measured tone since his recent performances have dropped. Hard to keep telling people to #stayonyourfeet if half the time you yourself are #stayingoffyourfeet as yet another striker nutmegs you.
"There's also, how can I put this delicately, a slight 'intellectual tone' barrier between us. When I once tweeted Rio with the words: 'Even United fans are begging me to stop tormenting you, it's like Einstein verbally jousting with a lobotomised amoeba,' he replied with: 'You're deluded, I've smashed you all over the Twitterverse -- now get your slippers out and concentrate on controlling your farts!' Classy.”
There can be few sports, and few clubs, where the Twitter age has been felt more strongly than soccer, and United. During my time covering the English Premier League for the Daily Mirror, then edited by Morgan himself, up until 2007, United’s media barricades were virtually impregnable.
Getting an interview any player you wished for, as is the way in most American sports, was simply unthinkable. If a journalist was lucky, one United player might be put forwards to speak to one reporter, whose duty it was to share the quotes around with the rest of the national press. The comments of manager Sir Alex Ferguson would be relayed to the club’s in-house channel MUTV, instead of at a normal press conference.
Now though, fans and media alike can get a snapshot into the lives and thoughts of the United players thanks to their Twitter utterings. And when you throw a wildcard like Morgan into the mix, who has the ability to rile up the team, it really starts to get interesting.
Indeed, players like Rooney and Ferdinand now seem more inclined to speak to the media, with many journalists believing Twitter has opened their eyes to the power of being accessible to the public that pays to watch them.
Rooney, who once accused Morgan of having the "most boring show" on television, Tweeted the television host within minutes of his team’s remarkable 8-2 victory over Arsenal earlier in the season.
"Just when I thought my mood couldn't get any worse, my mobile vibrated with a new tweet," Morgan said. "It was from Wayne Rooney and read simply: 'Hi mate, how r u?' This was the only tweet Rooney sent all night. And he'd sent it within 15 minutes of the final whistle.
"I tried to picture the scene as the jubilant United players partied in their dressing room and their star striker suddenly remembered what his absolute No.1 priority was -- publicly teasing me. In a way, I was flattered. And for sheer simplicity, it was a magnificently effective tweet."
One concern is that with United having exited the Champions League and falling off the pace set by its cross-town rival Manchester City in the EPL, Ferguson might take steps to restrict the amount of information coming out of Old Trafford, like he has so often in the past.
Such a move would surely just spur Morgan into more Twitter jibes, which the likes of Rooney and Ferdinand may find impossible to ignore, even if it incited their manager.
We certainly await the next episode with more fervor than we anticipate another installment of Piers Morgan Tonight.
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