Manchester United have slammed trolls responsible for torrents of vile, racist social media messages sent to players Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial in the wake of the club’s surprise 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United on Wednesday.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men suffered a calamitous home defeat to a Sheffield United team who have endured the worst-ever first half of a Premier League season, with goals from Kean Bryan and Oliver Burke enough to cancel out Harry Maguire’s header, dealing a significant blow to United’s unlikely title challenge in the process.
The defeat handed Manchester City a one-point advantage at the summit of the Premier League table, with Pep Guardiola’s side having a game in hand over their city rivals.
The manner of United’s defeat was overshadowed by a cascade of aggressive messaging directed at a host of United players on social media in the wake of the loss, with Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial in the firing line for internet trolls.
A number of fans posted racist messages on old Instagram photos of both players, while Tuanzebe – who made his first start of the season in the defeat – was also targeted on Twitter. Tuanzebe has reportedly since deleted his Twitter account.
Amid the ongoing ‘Black Lives Matter’ anti-racism campaign which has been in effect throughout the Premier League season, Manchester United issued a statement early on Thursday in which they condemned the torrent of abuse directed at their players, writing that they were “disgusted” at the “mindless idiots” who lashed out online.
“Everyone at Manchester United is disgusted by the racial abuse received by players via social media after last night’s game,” the club said.
“We utterly condemn it and it is encouraging to see other fans condemn this on social media also.
“Manchester United has zero tolerance of any form of racism or discrimination and a long-standing commitment to campaigning against it through our All Red All Equal initiative.
“Identifying these anonymous mindless idiots remains problematic. We urge social media platforms and regulatory authorities to strengthen measures to prevent this kind of behavior.”
Anti-racism watchdog Kick It Out also spoke out against the abuse and called upon social media companies to take action against those found to be responsible.
“We are disappointed that players are continuing to be subject to racist abuse on their social platforms. It is completely unacceptable,” the group’s chair, Sanjay Bhandari, announced.
“We will continue to work with the football authorities, law enforcement and social media companies to try and rid football of hateful and discriminatory behavior.
“As we have said before, online hate must have real-life consequences, so people don’t continue to spread hate as freely as they wish.
“The individuals responsible for this abuse will hopefully be identified by the social media platforms and swiftly removed.”