Saturday 17 March 2018

Raheem Sterling's biggest problem is bad coaching - not the cruelty of Twitter

England's Raheem Sterling
England's Raheem Sterling

Chris Bascombe

There’s been a lot of discussion about ‘Godwin’s Law’ recently. For those unaware, it refers to the practice whereby every online debate will eventually lead to a reference to Nazism. In some cases, such as when right-wing politicians use images and arguments making themselves sound like Nazism, it occurs more swiftly than others - but you’ve probably heard enough about the Brexit debate by now.

Today we may be in the process of confirming another new phenomenon. We’ll call it ‘Sterling’s Law’. This is the practice whereby every online debate about a poor England performance will eventually lead to a reference to Raheem Sterling’s current inability to cross a football.

There are variants of ‘Sterling’s Law’ for football academics to mull over. In another guise it could be referred to as ‘Wilshere’s Law’ – where internet arguments will eventually query exactly how, when and why an injury-prone Arsenal midfielder who always looks knackered after 35 minutes convinced the world he is the future of English football.

Or alternatively ‘Hodgson’s Law’ – whereby England fans reach that point where someone mentions a manager sitting in the dug-out with a look of permanent anxiety akin to a perplexed pensioner who can’t remember where they parked the car.

This morning’s dispatches from Chantilly inform us this constant online sniping suggesting Sterling is starting to resemble the new Andy Sinton rather than the next John Barnes has sapped the youngster’s confidence. He is bemused as to why he has been scapegoated for England’s failure to ensure they can’t progress to the Euro 2016 semi-finals without the inconvenience of playing a half-decent team.

Sympathy is in short supply for the emerging generation of superstars and the intolerable cruelty they must suffer on social media. It was the great satirist Armando Iannucci who wrote that Googling your name is like walking into a room where everyone thinks you’re s***. In the case of Twitter, Sterling has effectively invited 1.2 million followers into his living room to say how s*** they think he is.

Two questions spring to mind when hearing Sterling – or indeed anyone of notoriety - is spending too much time on social media.

The first is: why the hell are you going on Twitter when it’s full of lunatics?

The second is: why the hell are you going on Twitter when it’s full of lunatics?

Professional compulsion ensures some of us are contractually obliged to wear the straitjacket and swallow the pill, but for anyone with a high profile, a desire to protect their hyper-sensitive ego and, most pertinently, a life, to willingly pop into the asylum is a peculiar form of masochism.

Good day in training? Feeling confident you’ll soon be justifying that £49 million fee? Just have a quick look at your ‘mentions’ and Dr Steve Peters’ diary will be full for another month.

Should we really feel sorry for Sterling? Well, yes. Actually we should. A bit. To say mind-screwing abuse is a part of the trappings of wealth and fame is a justification that will eventually lead us into a debate that will have the aforementioned Mr Godwin wagging his finger.

Sterling is 21, and we tend to forget how young he is and how mentally fragile he now seems to be. Sterling’s open admission he was in need of Dr Peters’ advice pre-tournament was alarming. He’s starting to sound like a vulnerable young man who needs guidance and a long overdue intervention from those with his best interests at heart. He’s gone from a care-free, extremely talented footballer who two years ago had Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta chasing his shadow, to a target of vitriol facing a career-defining season trying to impress Pep Guardiola.

The notion Sterling is failing to dribble past a full-back because of a few cruel posts on Instagram is clearly a feeble excuse and will no doubt subject him to further ridicule, but his greatest problem is not confidence. It’s the lack of decent coaching he’s received since he joined Manchester City. He regressed under Manuel Pellegrini, who – on the basis of what we saw last season and in contrast to the much-maligned Brendan Rodgers – had little time for developing the game of Sterling or anybody else's at the Etihad.

Under Guardiola the youngster should find peace of mind and more expert protection on and off the pitch. Here is a coach who was taking interest in Sterling two years ago - you can be sure he was consulted by City before they signed the player - and we will see how good the England winger really is. Rediscover the form that made City pay so much, and the social media zombies will hunt fresh flesh.

In the meantime, Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville need not confiscate Sterling’s laptop. They should instead direct him to the only valuable contributions to a civil society the Twitter creators have made – the mute and block button.

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