Exclusive: Middlesbrough and Everton winger Yannick Bolasie shares thoughts on social media, online abuse and taking the knee
Even when Yannick Bolasie was frozen out of the squad back at Everton, the upbeat winger continued to share a positive relationship with the club’s fan base.
The 31-year-old hasn’t played a competitive game for the Toffees since 2018, prior to loan spells at Aston Villa, Belgiun club Anderlecht and Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon.
Now Bolasie has found himself at Middlesbrough playing under his former Crystal Palace manager Neil Warnock, and, despite the fact games continue to be played behind closed doors, the player has become a popular figure on Teesside.
That is partly down to Bolasie’s use of social media, with the wideman regularly engaging with supporters while posting videos of him travelling to and from training, providing insight for the fans.
Last month, after receiving a letter and picture from young fan Jenson, Bolasie surprised the youngster by delivering a Boro shirt to his house. A classy touch.
"I normally connect with the fans after games and stuff but obviously we can’t do that at the minute,” Bolasie tells the Mail. “Nowadays it tends to be more with social media when the fans can’t see us play.
“I’ve always been like that whatever club I’ve been to, I haven’t just been doing that.
“For me playing football, I like to play and please fans so it’s important to have that fan connection.
“Obviously I haven’t seen the Riverside full yet so it’s a bit different, but it’s good to be in contact with fans and show them what the team are trying to do and what I’m trying to do as well.”
Bolasie is also well aware of the negatives social media can cause, and last month Boro released a statement condemning the ‘vile and unacceptable’ racial abuse the winger received online.
Police Scotland later confirmed that a 22-year-old man had been arrested and charged in connection with a racially aggravated comment.
At the time, Bolasie tweeted: “Something seriously wrong with people...Keyboard warriors Still yet to meet a person who had this energy when they saw me.”
It came as social media companies face increasing scrutiny over abuse which can be channeled through online platforms, with many claiming sites should require a form of identification to help identify abusers.
After nearly 12 months without playing a competitive match, Bolasie says he just wants to focus on playing football again.
Still, just weeks after former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry deleted his social media account due to online abuse, it seems clear that more policing is needed.
“There is always going to be positive and negative sides of social media because anyone can say what they want,” Bolasie adds.
“You can’t really control it and sometimes you have to take things with a pinch of salt, but if they verify people to catch culprits it makes it easier.”
On the incident which happened in March, the winger adds: “I’m happy with the way that Middlesbrough dealt with that and we’ve drawn a line under that. Obviously I’ve had my say on it.
“I’ve only just got back to playing football so my concentration is playing football, prior to signing for Middlesbrough I hadn’t played a competitive game since the start of 2020.”
Ways to combat abuse, particularly racial abuse, have taken different forms.
When players in England first took the knee in June 2020, a symbolic gesture that was used by the Black Lives Matter movement and started in American football, it marked a powerful message.
Yet many believe the sign has lost its strength, with multiple Championship clubs choosing not to take the knee before games.
Boro stopped taking the knee before their match at QPR in September, when then-captain Britt Assombalonga explained the decision.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about as a squad, and we’ve just come to this decision,” said the striker after the QPR match.
“We obviously took the knee in the last game, but as a squad, we’ve talked about it since then. As a captain, I spoke to the boys because I wanted to take that responsibility. QPR didn’t do it at their last game, so it was something we spoke about.
“There’s an important point to it, but I just feel now that there has to be action. It has to lead to something, as opposed to just being a trend. It can’t be a case of us just doing it for the sake of doing it. We want to see some action.
“I don’t want to be doing it for the rest of my career. I’ve probably got six or seven years left of my career – I don’t want to be taking a knee every time but then still be waiting for a change.”
Bolasie’s views aren’t as prominent, yet the winger agrees that actions will help tackle the issue.
“Each to their own. My opinion, I’m very neutral and whether I take the knee or don’t take the knee doesn’t change anything for me or affect me in any way,” Bolasie adds.
“As long as things are getting done, and the club have obviously taken action for the guy that was abusive on social media, then that means more.”
At a time when online abuse and negative headlines have dragged people down, Bolasie’s positivity and uplifting use of social media has been refreshing.
And after scoring his first goal for Middlesbrough against Watford this week, his performances on the pitch are also giving fans satisfaction.
With his Everton contract set to expire this summer, Boro supporters will hope the winger has more to offer on Teesside.