England: Raheem Sterling needs to be left alone

As another summer tournament looms, the mainstream media have once again turned their focus to Raheem Sterling, and it needs to stop.


Reuters/Carl Recine

There appears to be something about Raheem Sterling that fuels the mainstream media’s fire in their pursuit of the Manchester City star. 

In fact, Sterling seems to appear in the ‘headlines’ more often for things that many would deem irrelevant than relevant. 

The desire is stronger for him to fail, rather than succeed, from certain reaches of the digital and printed press. 

Tattoo’s, cheap flights and ‘hippy crack’ … what is the obsession over Sterling’s life? 

In the words of Mario Balotelli: ‘Why always him?’

Maturing professional

Raheem Sterling’s life started in a suburb of Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent most of his junior years. 

At a young age, Sterling moved to London to join his mother, Nadine, who established herself in the Wembley area. 

His school life was often shadowed in trouble and problems (a permanent grave for the mainstream media to dig up and regurgitate every time they feel like making something out of nothing), although this isn’t anything Sterling himself would shy away from admitting. 

Reuters/Carl Recine

With footballing talents that were clear to see from an early age, one of his early-year teachers admitted they thought Sterling would either make it big in the game, or end up in prison – quite the turnout, then. 

Signing for Liverpool at 15 from Queen’s Park Rangers’ youth system, Sterling’s every move was about to become scrutinised. 

The witchhunt begins

At 17 years old, he made his professional debut for the Anfield club, marking the start of the ‘witchhunt’.

Sterling found himself in court cases relating to assault charges, both of which were dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence, which says it all. Not for the mainstream media though. Another worthless, inconclusive scrap of story-making content to cling to. 

‘Innocent until proven guilty…?’ Not for you, apparently, Raheem. 

An inspiring season at Liverpool saw Sterling bring out the best in him the country had seen, linking up with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to dismantle defences. 

 REUTERS/David Klein

Sterling then angered Liverpool fans by forcing move away from Anfield to Manchester City after growing frustrated at the club. 

This, of course, prompted negative coverage of Sterling’s ‘behaviour’ and ‘attitude’ after talks surrounding his move dragged on – because no one has ever requested to leave a club before, have they…?

The then-20-year-old was accused of chasing the money, chasing the paycheck, was being accused of being ‘greedy’ and ‘too young’ to demand such terms – no doubt the same people who will say, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. He was certainly ‘good’ enough for Liverpool. 

Off-field scrutiny

The move to Manchester City brought along with it the expected paparazzi magnet – he was constantly watched, followed and assessed. Pictures of lunches, meetings and social gatherings emerged. 

Sterling couldn’t dare have female friends or be seen with anyone but his long-term partner, Paige Milian. 

Naturally, the move to the Etihad Stadium brought added on-field pressure. Sterling had a quiet first campaign, heightening the off-field scrutiny: ‘the money’s gone to his head… he’s not good enough… told you so’.

Reuters/Carl Recine

Despite the shaky start, Sterling has been in electric, mature form. The arrival of Pep Guardiola has slowly transformed Sterling into one of the league’s best players; 18 goals and an almost equal number of assists this term. 

Sterling’s form kept the dull, monotonous hunters quiet for most of the campaign – the anguish of seeing him succeed.

Why always Sterling?

Some players just have something about them that the media can’t help but be drawn to.

Raheem Sterling is one of those players, and no matter who he’s compared to, he’ll always be painted in a much worse light. 

To put things into perspective, comparisons have to be drawn up. Ex-Premier League and Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli often found himself in front of the media headmaster for both his on- and off-field antics. 

Reuters/Carl Recine

Setting off fireworks in his house, displaying his ‘why always me?’ undershirt during a game with Manchester United, an infamous back-heel attempt during a pre-season game; the list goes on. Just imagine Sterling swearing on live TV; one rule for one, one rule for another. 

The difference is Balotelli’s attitude had a wider-audience perception of being ‘funny’ and ‘amusing’, but being a role model for younger fans, surely a crime is a crime, no matter who committed it. 

Taxi!

An under-performing West Bromwich Albion travelled to Spain for a mid-season break. Club captain Jonny Evans, ‘model’ professional Gareth Barry, Boaz Myhill all threw into the spotlight themselves after drinking and stealing a taxi. 

Jake Livermore, also involved in the England set-up with Sterling, was involved in the incident. All four escaped charges with as little as a slap on the wrist. 

Picture the scene: Sterling steals a taxi after drinking in Barcelona whilst away with his rock-bottom team on a winter training break – he’d be fed to the lions. 

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was pictured on a Tenerife strip on the ground after having copious amounts of alcohol, shortly after footage of him inhaling ‘hippy crack’. 

This all prompted Aston Villa to diffuse the situation and declare it would be dealt with internally; Grealish was protected.

Grealish’s antics are on a par with some incidents Sterling has got caught up, as he, too, was pictured inhaling balloons and shisha pipes – why is the reporting on Sterling much more scathing?

Reuters/Carl Recine

Times change, media and coverage becomes more accessible, that’s part and parcel of an advancing world, and it’s something that the modern day player is all too aware of. But in terms of levels of ‘offence’, Sterling is persecuted for far less than his older-day peers.

Paul Merson has bravely come out in recent times to speak of his internal, personal issues, which is admirable. In a lighter, less serious environment, the ex-Arsenal star hasn’t shied away from sharing personal anecdotes. 

Drinking during away game trips, nights out after matches… things that players just can’t do these days without being thrust into the newspapers – although it’s a situation that isn’t too unlike the West Brom quartet’s little adventure. 

Beating a tattoo

One thing is for sure, though, Raheem Sterling on a night out is Christmas miracle for certain outlets. 

The latest, needless, shameless attack on Sterling comes after his decision to have an assault rifle tattooed on his right shin. 

While the size of the tattoo isn’t discrete, the invasion into a decision he is well within his rights to make – a decision that’s no one’s business but his own – is a step too far. 

The current political situation in certain areas of the world may be grounds for some to ask the question privately, but for the mainstream English media to slam him the way they have is out of order.

Reuters/Carl Recine

So what if he has a tattoo? I’m sure that if we were to analyse the ink and bodywork of any group of players, there would be countless images that would offend some. 

If Sterling had his socks up, no one would have ever known, said media wouldn’t have snapped a pointless picture, and the public would be none the wiser – if he had had it on his back, stomach, chest…

Sterling, not that he had to, chose to try to diffuse the situation and released a summary over social media; a tribute to his murdered father. It’s a personal, individual situation. What right does anyone have to question it?

What’s the reason?

While, in comparison, others have got off the hook much easier for far worse, Sterling cannot live a free and private life. 

But why?

What is it about him that has constantly has him in the spotlight? The mainstream media are like a pack of lions stalking, watching, hoping for a wondering zebra to make a fatal mistake.

Is it because he’s English? Is it racially motivated? 

Looking back to the comparison’s of others, one can only deduce that it’s his story, his talent and his desire to succeed that creates such a buzz around him that the scornful mainstream can’t wait to see burn. 

Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, both white, were other examples of blossoming talent that could do no right in the eyes of those who hate seeing English prodigies succeed.

England must be one of very few countries whose media will do what they can to derail and taint a talented one of their own.

Rooney and Wilshere have had their fair share of unfair and intrusive run-ins with the press, and while some instances can be universally dubbed as ‘silly’ and ‘stupid’, the persecution, was, in the main, excessive. 

Those two were England’s ‘Golden Boys’ at different times, maybe therein lies the answer.

Sterling is the next one on the production line and, still only 23, has a huge future ahead of him – especially if his form this season is anything to go by. 

The likes of Ademola Lookman (who should make his move to RB Leipzig permanent) and Jadon Sancho have made the right decision to develop their game in Germany. Out of the spotlight, out of the needless scrutiny, out of sight. 

As a nation – especially where the mainstream media are concerned – we love to see failure. We love to prioritise negatives over positives, look for the bad over the good. 

A perfect World Cup for the papers wouldn’t be England winning it, it would be a group stage exit filled with abject, poor performances – and hopefully, three awful games for Raheem Sterling… a perfect scapegoat for the icing on the cake. No doubt the tattoo would take some of the blame, too. 

The majority want England to perform, to succeed, to deliver. Especially Sterling, who’ll be a key member of the team.

Most people admire a hard-working, charity-giving, family-first, driven young talented professional. Not if you’re a lazy, clouded, jealous, demeaning, bored journalist you don’t. 

Ignore the ‘haters’, Raheem. England’s true fans have your back – and there are many. 

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Jack Dudley

79

Football writer and Championship enthusiast, currently based in the Middle East.

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