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Raheem Sterling turned up late and went down easy – criticising him doesn’t make you a racist bully


Raheem Sterling turned up late and went down easy – criticising him for it doesn’t make you a racist bully… luckily his own attitude towards his mistakes is more mature

Have the Football Association got to every single football correspondent to ensure Raheem Sterling is given a positive slant? The truth is that this young man in his short football career has created a lot of problems inside and outside the game with his attitude and actions. All have been well documented by journalists who in the last seven days would have given Sterling a sainthood. This is utter garbage and I would like to know how the FA got to these writers.

I realise the Daily Mail’s target audience is mainly white, so whenever there is any mention of a black player all the neutrals have negative comments. Even the writers report negatively about blacks, and this is across all sections of their site.

So there you have it. We’re so soft we must have been got at by the FA to write positively about Sterling, or we’re a bunch of racists who appeal to a like-minded audience of racists and never have a good word to say about black footballers. Quite a difference of opinion, that. Strap yourselves in, everybody, it’s the Sterling debate this week, one player, one topic. And I think it might be a bumpy ride. Calm yourselves down with this first.

I was at Wembley on Saturday and even England fans booed Sterling for his dive. He needs to stop doing this.

I think fans get it on diving. Well, the intelligent ones do.

Without Sterling, England have zero chance. Someone needs to tell this moron to shut it. Why stress the player out now over foolishness? Martin, you need to stop picking on the young black players. It seems they are the only ones that do wrong. Leave Sterling alone, if he had got a penalty kick you would be quiet.

Well, I’m very happy to be in the company of other morons such as Gareth Southgate, who has identified the futility of diving in the VAR age, and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who recently called out his best player, Mohamed Salah, for trying to cheat. Sterling doesn’t need to stress, indeed there are no signs that he does, merely modify behaviour that will only come against him and the team. The same goes for any player with an instinctive tendency to dive. And I most certainly do not celebrate penalty kicks won by duplicity, no matter who they fall for; I’d say it is you that needs to give your mouth a rest and your brain a chance, although it appears to be fighting a losing battle.

The sooner the Premier League gets VAR the better for the game.

I agree. I never thought it was going to solve every problem anyway, so I haven’t been as disappointed by its implementation as others. Now it’s here, the quicker we can embrace it, the quicker it will improve and work to our satisfaction.

Why don’t all you Sterling haters admit that he’s got everything you ever wanted at a young age and that’s what you don’t like about him. If you’re racist it’s even harder to accept. Leave the kid alone, bullies.

So everyone who disapproves of Sterling diving or arriving a day late for England duty is a jealous, racist, bully? Fortunately, as was demonstrated in his dealings with the media on Tuesday, the player is a little more grown up in his attitude towards his mistakes.

Sterling is moving at lightning speed compared to most players, so he is not necessarily diving but trying to get out of the way. Have a good World Cup. With 2.5m Instagram followers, you are a star, which the British tabloids can’t dim, even though they are trying.

He was out of the way of Nigeria’s goalkeeper when he fell. I can’t work out what you understand less: football or physics. And who cares about Instagram followers? That’s celebrity. This is sport.

Dele Alli, Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford don’t get a mention in this? Daily Mail agenda.

What, an agenda to write about stuff that has actually happened, you mean? So Sterling dived against Nigeria and was booked, despite a team briefing warning against it in the morning. Alli, Young, Rashford didn’t dive, so they were not mentioned. Every article about diving does not have to include a historical list of each player that has been guilty of it.

Southgate, grow some balls and drop Sterling, he is a liability. What if he dives during a game and gets sent off? Lay the ground rules now, you are supposed to be the man in charge, or is it in name only?

Why does everyone need to be dropped or sacked these days. Why is it always the sledgehammer to crack a nut? Sterling is not a liability for England, or any team. The message on diving needs reinforcing. That’s what management is about. Not dropping one of your best players the first mistake he makes.

Sterling has two goals for England, against Lithuania and Estonia, in 38 games. That’s a shocking return for a man who has supposedly improved his finishing. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sane practically score his goals for him at Manchester City, he just has to bundle the ball into the net – and the majority of the time he even misses those. Finishing is still his biggest weakness or he’d be having a season like Salah. If he just learned to kick a ball with a bit of power, City would have won the lot last year.

I agree that Sterling’s finishing needs improvement. The irony of the machine gun tattoo representing the potency of his right foot is that many would argue accurate shooting under pressure is his weakest characteristic. He scored 23 in 46 matches for City last season which is good, although once again it might be said for a side creating so many chances, that is around par. We can all agree, however, that two in 38 for England is a dismal record for such a skilled player, but maybe the World Cup will be his breakthrough tournament, just as this was a breakthrough season in the Premier League.

Raheem Sterling has been an easy target since his tattoo of a gun was revealed

Raheem Sterling has been an easy target since his tattoo of a gun was revealed

Sterling is a perfect case study of what a great manager can do to a player. When he plays for City, he’s brilliant to watch, when he plays for England, he looks like a Conference player.

I think that is rather harsh on Southgate. Sterling has a better team around him with City. I’ve just jotted down a quick composite XI and I’ve got six City players (Ederson, Nicolas Otamendi, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Sane, Silva), two that play for both (John Stones and Kyle Walker) and just three from England (Kieran Trippier, Alli, Harry Kane).

Guarantee you that the other countries, particularly the more successful ones, will dive and cheat three times as much as England. Conning referees won’t be England’s downfall.

I think the days when we believed cheating was the preserve of foreign players have long gone, D.

Sterling should be dropped, he’s been terrible for England. So he’s scored goals for Manchester City? Don’t you get it? We, as England fans, don’t give a damn what he’s done for City. The truth is he is an appalling finisher for England and loses possession far too easily. As for picking on him – we wouldn’t if he performed. City can keep him. England fans don’t want him anymore and if City sign Riyad Mahrez he’ll be out of the door there, too.

I’m an England fan and you don’t speak for me. Sterling can be wasteful and frustrating but also creative and direct, unafraid to run at defenders. Right now, I’ll seize that deal with both hands.

That’s the thing, Anthony. I don’t think you speak for all England fans at all. Funnily enough, I’m an England fan and I don’t want Sterling dropped. In fact, the press box is full of England fans, and none of them want him dropped either. My lads are England fans, and so are their friends, and I’ve never heard one of them say he should be dropped. So I’m not convinced you have the majority view here. Just a rather narrow-minded one.

It’ll never happen but I’d love to see a dive in one penalty area result in a penalty for the opposing team in the other area. It would soon stop.

And that is a cracking idea. As is this.

Sterling probably thinks that he has to dive in order to get a penalty. When you look back to last season and see the amount of times he had his legs taken away only for a penalty not to be given it was just embarrassing.

Bit chicken and egg, though, don’t you think?

I didn’t think much to Southgate’s appointment and I have been surprised at how he has carried himself and heartened by his single mindedness. However, he is wrong to say you can’t have black and white rules. What are rules if not a strict code of working? On the day that Sterling reported late, Southgate should have immediately announced he would not be playing in the forthcoming match. This would have correctly punished the player and negated any escalation when the gun tattoo rubbish cropped up; but prevarication leads to muddy water, muddy water ends up as a mire, and in a mire is the conclusion to most England campaigns.

I think that’s a fair point. If Southgate had made the lateness public and the punishment apparent, then it couldn’t have been conflated with the gun tattoo, which is an entirely separate issue. Then again, had he done that, it would have been impossible to reinstate Sterling and show support for the player at a time when it may have seemed the world was against him. I think this is what Southgate means about black and white rules. On principle there should be plain guidelines; at the same time good management requires the flexibility to adjust to individuals and individual situations.

I like how the English press is hounding its most skilful player.

What hounding him by saying don’t cheat and turn up on time for England’s World Cup training camp? Yes, we’re proper vicious like that.

Not much on the assist for Kane’s goal. Only the negative, as usual.

I didn’t mention Kane’s goal, let alone the assist for it. The match took place on Saturday, I was writing a report for Monday’s paper. If you need me to describe what happened, I would say you’re not all that interested. Anyway, for the record, it was a square pass of about three yards. You want another 1,200 words on that?

I don’t condone the diving, but don’t you think it’s time you stopped leading the Sterling bashing brigade, Martin?

If you cannot differentiate between criticism of cheating and groundless criticism I think you do condone diving, actually. And I do hope you’re a fan of Ian Rush and not that bunch of Canadian hard rock bores. Because then I’d have even less respect for your intellect.

Daily Mail with another anti-Sterling article.

Yes, they actually made him dive on Saturday.

Thank you, Baggsy. I’m glad I don’t have to do all the work around here.

It is rubbish to say the cheats will always get caught. Explain how Real Madrid are European champions then – only by cheating. And I’m not a Liverpool supporter.

Maybe not, but you’re hardly a wizard of analysis either if you think Real Madrid won three European titles straight – or even just this last one – by cheating.

I agree with Martin Samuel a lot of the time but he’s got this one completely wrong. Sterling is not a diver. Dele Alli on the other hand…

…did not dive against Nigeria on Saturday, whereas Sterling did. How does that make him not a diver?

As Martin said in his piece: ‘And if FIFA are serious about retrospective action at the World Cup…’ The key word in that sentence is ‘if’. The safest way to find out if they are serious, is to keep our discipline in check, do not test VAR by diving, and just let cheating others find out if FIFA are serious or not.

There is already some back-pedalling going on, I understand. Southgate said England have not been officially briefed on how retrospective action would work, and I’m hearing it might not apply to diving. So, if a referee misses an obvious dive, it might not be the case that he is instructed to book the player at the next break in play – or even half-time. The focus of retrospective action is going to be violent play, it seems – although for obvious reasons that is often picked up at the time. We shall see.

As a Manchester City fan, I hope Sterling withdraws from the squad. He needs to concentrate on representing a team that plays good football, whose local journalists concentrate on the football, whose fans concentrate on the football. Also a club that has spent the majority of its years in one of the most culturally diverse areas of Manchester. We, as a club and fan base do not deride people because of their race.

And today’s prize for nonsense goes to…

Indeed. As you know we’ve got a few on here, but it’s rare that a newcomer goes straight in at number one. The idea that Manchester City have got some kind of copyright on racial harmony and are covered only by the most saintly members of the fourth estate is my favourite, but you’ll have your own, I am sure. Although coming up on the rails…

Sterling should just come home and rest up ahead of defending the title he was instrumental in winning. He is completely unappreciated by England fans. And he’s not a No 10 so Southgate is hanging him out to dry.

Do you want to tell him then? Because I was just reading Sterling has a tattoo of himself wearing the No 10 for England, as that has always been his dream. Southgate thinks that playing him in a central role actually gets more out of him, because he relishes the trust and responsibility. By the way, all you City fans whining that your players are unappreciated and should concentrate on playing for their club, do you know who you sound like? To mess a little with George Orwell. ‘The creatures outside looked from Manchester City fan to Manchester United fan, and from United fan to City fan, and from City fan to United fan again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’

This dive earned Sterling a booking in England's friendly against Nigeria last weekend

This dive earned Sterling a booking in England’s friendly against Nigeria last weekend

Every two years without fail the press hammers the England squad and has them thinking about penalties – no need to keep mentioning it – and weaknesses even before they announce the squad. Maybe once, as nation, unite and support and have them go to a World Cup with confidence talking about the positives. On paper it’s a good squad but if you tell someone they aren’t good enough for long enough they will believe you.

England exited on penalties in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012, so six of their last 12 finals tournaments. It has become such a feature that this manager has them practicing penalties in training, right down to the walk from the halfway line. I don’t think it requires the press to remind the players it is an English weakness. Similarly, the playing down of expectations has been as good as an FA strategy for more than a decade now. If anything, I feel it has gone too far. As I have said, I expect England to reach the last eight.

Did no-one see the Brazil player dive on Sunday? Not even one comment. That was a friendly, no one near him – but, what, four articles on England diving? Are you honestly telling me the other countries don’t do it and in every single game? Dive away young Sterling. They do it, you do it lads.

Yes, dive away. Dive away and watch the VAR overturn the penalty call. Dive away and watch VAR expose it. Dive away and get booked as a result. Dive away and let those bookings tally up into a tournament suspension. Don’t listen to your manager. Don’t listen to anyone who knows the first thing about modern football and how it works. Dive away.

Just the usual self-sabotage our wonderful press delight in before a World Cup. The same thing has been going on for years. We even had a national journalist climbing a wall once to spy on an England session, then reporting the formation and team on the day of the match. That must have helped the opposition.

Trying to break the story of the starting XI has always gone on. It’s a newspaper. First syllable: news. Who is playing and who isn’t – that’s news. And if journalists can find out the starting XI, has it never occurred to you that the opposition can, too? Clubs are cosmopolitan. Players from different countries are team-mates, share agents, coaches, friends. That’s why team news leaks. And hitting the phones is still a more effective way of discovering the team than climbing a tree. Glenn Hoddle was paranoid about the team getting out, but insisted on naming it the day before a game – so it always did. The funny thing is that when you meet England fans, the first thing they want to know is who is playing – so why, if we know, would we keep that out of a newspaper? You get this for free online, Kevin, but others, in their millions, pay 65p or £1 on Saturday. For that, we’ll tell them what we know. It would be insulting not to.

The colour of his skin has made Sterling an easy target. The gun tattoo is a red herring.

No, I’m pretty sure it’s a gun.

A story like Sterling’s tattoo was manna from heaven for the 24 hour rolling news outlets. A rich international footballer, bereaved mothers, social commentary on the state of Britain’s youth, nothing else going on so we’ll get a couple of days out of it. Rival fans will also lap it up, weighing in with their moral outrage. He’s 23 and needs a bit more protection from his agency, I reckon.

From his agent’s point of view I doubt he was consulted. A former colleague of mine, Paul McCarthy, does some of Sterling’s PR work. Knowing Paul, I doubt very much that he would say, ‘Raheem, I’ve been thinking. Why not have a machine gun tattooed on your leg? That’ll play well.’ But I agree with what you said about the news agenda. At a time of rising violent crime in London and other cities it was a perfect storm. The talking points in football invariably reflect the issues of the time, and this is no different. Sterling’s supposed glorification of weapons played into the present fear of gangs and the threat on the streets. It was an old tattoo, but nobody had noticed it until it was so prominently displayed in that Instagram photograph, and then all the strands came together: gun crime, rich footballers, role models – and, as you point out, a quiet news week, meaning it got a prominence it did not deserve.

Sterling couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

Yes, but don’t you ever stop to wonder: why would he? Why would anyone, in fact? Waste of a perfectly good banjo if you ask me. Certainly, when you could do this with it.

It looks to me like he’s stupidly equated the potency of his right leg with an assault rifle. I just think he’s guilty of poor judgement and not anything sinister.

I’m ready to be persuaded otherwise – about a deeper meaning, not that the tattoo is sinister – but that would be my take, too.

Martin, I think you gloss over the crux of it all, which is not that Sterling is perceived as greedy as the result of angling for a move to Manchester City – plenty of players angle for moves to other clubs – but that he sought to move from Liverpool, a club with large global support. City do not have that, with the result newspapers, for whom clickbait pays the bills, systematically churn out story after story portraying Sterling as a grasping, bling-brained arriviste, to appeal to a growing swathe of embittered Liverpool fans unable to accept their new-found position as City’s inferiors. Thus we have had ‘Sterling drives dirty Bentley’, ‘Sterling eats at Greggs’, ‘Sterling buys house with gold taps’ (The Sun neglected to mention he bought it for his mum), ‘Sterling goes on two holidays in a week’, ‘Sterling buys house near dogging site’, plus his photograph gratuitously attached to a tale about drugs in football.

Johnny, I love a paranoid fantasy as much as the next man, but yours has one problem. Most of the stories you quote are from one newspaper, The Sun, and that newspaper has zero chance of appealing to Liverpool fans, embittered or otherwise, online or in print. Sterling’s move was conducted in a flagrantly controversial manner, that made him epitome of the greedy footballer to many. Maybe that he was signing for a club benefitting from new money added to that picture because it highlighted the billions sloshing about within the game these days, but the selling club was barely part of the narrative. Apart from a feeling that he was ungrateful towards the club that made his career, it was nothing to do with him leaving Liverpool. And I know that list of negative stories was trending on Twitter, but equally you could post a thread with 10 times that number of positive reports about Sterling in the national press such as Oliver Holt’s Mail on Sunday interview, or his column last weekend. I’ve just looked at a column I wrote advocating his inclusion for England on June 2, 2014 – when Roy Hodgson still did not look like selecting him. It’s all out there, Johnny. There’s no conspiracy.

Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho was pleased the ref got it right when Sterling went down 

Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho was pleased the ref got it right when Sterling went down 

And playing Call of Duty for hours on end doesn’t encourage kids to get guns?

I’m not sure it encourages kids to get guns because, thankfully, guns aren’t as easy to come by here as you might think. But that doesn’t mean it is healthy.

A gun tattoo is never a good idea.

Here’s a thing. Talking to people about this last week, I found women more likely to be appalled than men. Not all women obviously, because since then we’ve had a similar controversy around Lily Allen and I know Rihanna has a gun tattoo. Not that either are in my social circle, but many of the women who are judged Sterling more negatively than the men did.

Martin, our greasy media is too lazy or incompetent to find real stories and with acres of online space to fill, that made Sterling a target.

And just like the time he claimed I was at home reporting the Ashes off the television when the copy actually placed me at the Sofitel hotel in Brisbane, for Joe Root’s press conference, here’s Ericjimbob demonstrating his acute understanding of the way media works. Acres of online space? That’s the thing with the internet. It’s limitless, big or small. I could stop now if I wanted. I could carry on for another 10,000 words. I could have stopped 3,000 words ago. It wouldn’t have left a big hole on the page like it does in a newspaper. My column for the paper has a word count. This doesn’t. It could be, and is, whatever I want it to be. I stop when I’m done. Sometimes long, sometimes short, depending on time not wordage. And of course Sterling’s tattoo was a real story. It was the lead item on the BBC news for that reason. It crossed from front page to back page and back to front page again. It could have run anywhere in the newspaper, and it provoked social comment, debate and reaction. I might think with the benefit of distance and cold analysis it got more column inches than it deserved, but that doesn’t mean the conversation was insignificant. I remember when you said we all overplayed Brazil 1 Germany 7, too, but believe me that was news as well.

As if Sterling isn’t bashed left and right for whatever he does by the media. Disgusting. Why don’t you focus on football players that cheat on their wives, for example, and leave this man alone?

So the headline in The Sun: ‘WED DEVIL – Love rat Raheem Sterling proposes to long-suffering girlfriend Paige Milian’. That’s the sort of stuff I should be writing about, yes? Mind if I just stick to the football?

There has clearly been an orchestrated campaign initiated originally by Liverpool FC using the vast number of former players involved in the media and, for some unknown reason, continued by a small section of the written press who pursue him to the extent of harassment. There may be occasions when Raheem doesn’t help himself but honestly, why should he have to spend his life wondering what The Sun will print about him next? There is growing resentment among Manchester City fans at the unfair treatment he has received and hopefully the club will take note and take some action against those in the media who have conducted this vendetta.

And then will you all stop messaging us asking why your club doesn’t get the same prominent coverage as Manchester United and Liverpool? Because you seem to want it both ways, David.

What is it with footballers and tattoos? It’s not a good look.

I don’t think it is just footballers, Neil. Take a look around you. Everyone has got them. I’m with Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out on this. Asked about Sterling’s tattoo, he said: ‘From a personal point of view, I think it is weird. I personally find it inexplicable. But that’s me.’ And that’s me, too.

The British media though. Wow.

I’ll say this for our lot, however. If the head of our Football Association was as beset by scandal as your beloved South African FA president Danny Jordaan, we’d make damn sure he couldn’t get re-elected. So there’s that. One former accusation of rape, another pending and what was last month’s vote – 49-2? You may wish to turn your gaze closer to home.

So when are Arsenal going to change their name, their nickname or their badge?

This flawed argument was very popular on social media, but Arsenal’s history and name make plain why their badge is as it is. I doubt if a team could start up in modern London in 2018 and adopt an assault rifle as their emblem without being decried. Context is all.

Gareth Southgate had to manage the Sterling situation - and he played him against Nigeria

Gareth Southgate had to manage the Sterling situation – and he played him against Nigeria

If his dad had been killed by a bus would he get a tattoo of a bus?

Another popular retort. Sterling’s statement that it is a mark of remembrance for his murdered father succeeded in shutting the argument down, so I’m not about to judge. But speaking personally, I remain unconvinced my mother would appreciate being remembered with a tattoo of mesothelioma cells. She’d probably be pleased to know we still use her sage and onion recipe when we have chicken, though. It’s a blinder.

Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t reporters who attend sports press conferences limit their questions to the actual sport and not personal tittle tattle?

Except the tattoo was revealed in an Instagram post released by Sterling, not as the result of an inquisition. Here’s a novel idea. Pay attention.

Same stuff every couple of years: the media targets one of our promising players before a major tournament. How about you rat journalists do us fans a favour and let the players get on with their job this summer? Scrutinised over a tattoo? This is becoming an absolute joke. Shouldn’t the English media want our national team to do well?

And yet Sterling didn’t think he was targeted. Indeed, Sterling said he understood the scrutiny. He didn’t see it your way at all. Twitter must be very disheartened at this rationality.

I think it’s crazy how there have been calls for him to be removed from the squad yet John Terry admitted calling a fellow professional a black c*** and still went to the European Championships in 2012. We know what outrages people over here. More like Wilfried Zaha and Victor Moses will continue to represent their countries of birth, because unless you look a certain way you’ll have the tabloids constantly picking on you.

Actually, Terry did not admit using those words in a pejorative sense – and Ashley Cole, a black man, spoke in his favour – so, again, you are removing context from the argument. Context is all. It is quite possible that five of England’s starting XI in Russia will be black and, most weeks, I see nothing but praise for Kyle Walker, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Alli and even Sterling. Indeed, the worst orchestrated booing I have ever heard for a black footballer in England came every time Alli touched the ball against Nigeria on Saturday – and it came from Nigeria’s fans. But I imagine you would wish context applied in that case, and understandably so. As for Zaha and Moses, maybe they play for their country of birth because it is exactly that; and England were hardly offering them senior international football at the time, either. Or maybe they went for the tunes. I know I would. Until next time.





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