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Sports

Footballers, Fans Express Themselves On Players' Homepages

From Wesley Sneijder's favorite film to Philipp Lahm's pet rabbits -- soccer stars' homepages promise normal fans personal access to their heroes. But how much of such sites is genuine and how much fake?

Screenshot from the Homepage of Lukas Podolski

Podolski's web page gives you the choice the player himself had to make: German or Polish?

It's hard to imagine what an old-school, a-couple-of-pints-before-the-match-won't-hurt coach like Brian Clough would have thought, but the fact is that if you're a young soccer star today, you must have a homepage.

Footballers' websites -- to judge from some from the stars of Euro 2008 -- come in two basic varieties.

There are staidly professional virtual resumés, such as Lahm's or Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart's, that communicate the latest news about the player's health, performance and charitable activities. A few childhood snapshots or wedding photos are as personal as they get.

Then there are pages that play with the medium, offering flash animation, computer screen wallpapers, games and chat forums that ostensibly give admirers the chance to communicate with their idols.

And that's where things turn a bit bizarre.

Soccer's pop-star

Screenshot from the Homepage of Michael Ballack

Ballack prefers the all-action style on and off the pitch

On the guestbook of Michael Ballack's homepage, a number of presumably female fans proclaim their undying love for Germany's photogenic number 13.

One user wrote, "Dearest Michael, I am waiting for you to inspire me to compose a real poem," while another asked the playmaker to score a goal for her in Germany's Euro group stage match against Croatia.

That's not unusual, says the company that designed and maintains the site, Dortmund's 7 Dead Cats.

"Seventy percent of visitors to Michael Ballack's homepage are women," 7DC Chairman Bernd Huck told DW-WORLD.DE. "He's the one true pop star among German footballers."

Screenshot from the Homepage of Bastian Schweinsteiger

Schweini goes for the "quiet reflection" approach

Male fans tend to offer advice, rather than protestations of undying amor.

"Hey, Schweini, remember to put the pedal to metal tomorrow," posted one motivational specialist in German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's chatroom.

Others offer words of consolation and strategic counsel in tough times.

"It's not your fault -- you did your best," one user wrote to Turkey's Hamit Altintop. "But you were out of position. You should be playing in midfield, and Tugay should take over for you at the back."

Personal input?

Screenshot from the Homepage of Lukas Podolski

Prinz Poldi has his own Princesses lighting up his page

As heartfelt as most users' missives are, one might be skeptical as to whether the intended recipients bother to read them.

At 7DC, designers meet up with the players, who decide on the details of the site and agree to write a more-or-less regular column.

"How intensively they get involved depends on the individual player himself, but we know that some do look at their pages regularly," said Huck. "Especially if they happen to get injured, they like hearing from fans. It cheers them up."

And some homepages do seem to bear a personal stamp. Altintop's features hip-hop visual aesthetics that fit his public persona and background, while Lukas Podolski's is available in Polish as well as Germany.

That made it a target after the Polish-born striker scored two goals in Germany's opening match against the country of his birth.

"We received lots of threatening messages from Poland," Huck said. "Of course, we didn't post them on the site."

Making friends

Screenshot from the Homepage of Hamit Altintop

Hamit Altintop goes urban in the sweater he got from his nan

7DC said one of their primary goals was creating Internet communities, and even if fans don't necessarily get closer to the players, the homepages do allow them to communicate with one another.

On Ballack's site, for instance, one of the aforementioned posters offered some words of encouragement for another's efforts to improve her English.

"You are doing great," wrote the fan. "You use new words and you have less [sic] grammatical errors."

So at very least, player homepages can be a way to practice new skills and learn some thoroughly useless trivia -- such as the fact that Wesley Sneijder's favorite film is "Prison Break," and Philipp Lahm's pet rabbits are called Brownie and Milky Way.

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