Tuesday 25 September 2018

Buying his mother a present - who does Raheem Sterling think he is?

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling. Photo: Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

What's your favourite Raheem Sterling story? Maybe it's the one from this time last year when the Sun revealed that his girlfriend was pregnant and she had "shown off her baby bump" by, unsurprisingly enough, wearing a Manchester City jersey to a Manchester City game with 'Sterling 7' on the back of it.

Sample line: "A source said: 'The shirt was clearly a statement to show she was having a baby and she was saying, 'Raheem's the Daddy'."

Maybe it's the disgusting lack of shame he showed for England's Euro 2016 exit when he came home, met some friends and gave them a tour of the house which he had bought for his mother.

This being the woman who moved with three children from Jamaica to a tough housing estate in London when Sterling was five, he might have felt indebted for her kindness and support but that, apparently, isn't allowed when you've under-performed in a major tournament.

Blinging

Mail online headline: "£180,000-a-week England flop Raheem shows off blinging house he bought for his mum - complete with jewel-encrusted bathroom - hours after flying home in disgrace from Euro 2016".

The Sun also found a fulminating Richard Smith, 39, from Canterbury, who said: "Football fans across England are in mourning and he's showing off a diamond-encrusted bathroom. Some fans will never forgive him for this. It's a disgrace."

Indeed it is Richard.

There's also the tales about him shopping in Poundworld (naturally accompanied with multiple references to his weekly wage, £49m transfer fee, value of his house and number of cars); how he enjoys eating at Greggs; and the fact that he flew home from his holidays on an EasyJet flight, which was breathlessly revealed by the Daily Star.

"Passengers on the flight back from Marbella were staggered to see the 21-year-old England winger in economy class," it wrote last October. "Dumped in an aisle seat, he even had to get up to let neighbours get out to the toilet."

What they would have done if Sterling hadn't got up out of his seat wasn't speculated upon.

So far, we have a young man, whose father died when he was nine, was brought up by his mother in a different country to where he was born who had enough discipline to come through a tough upbringing to make it in one of the most cut-throat industries in the world and who is paid in line with the economics of his profession. When you step back, it's difficult to find the outrage.

On Saturday against West Brom, Sterling netted his ninth goal of the season, making him the leading scorer in a Manchester City team that is among the best in Europe at the moment, yet the years of character assassinations mean credit is slow to come.

There have been a couple of off-field indiscretions but most of Sterling's unpopularity stems from his departure from Liverpool to City, in which he very quickly became characterised as the greedy epitome of a modern footballer who had been given too much, too young. He even got booed playing for England in Dublin just after completing the move.

Ashley Cole, too, went through similar levels of nonsense when he revealed that he "nearly crashed his car" when Arsenal offered him 'only' £55,000 a week in their contract negotiations before he eventually signed for Chelsea.

From that point, Cole's public reputation never recovered, and every apparent off-field issue fuelled the fire of fury which saw Cole abused at virtually every away ground despite being arguably the greatest left-back ever to play for England.

Cole, like Sterling at Liverpool, was absolutely right to demand to be paid what he was worth, and had either Arsenal or Liverpool been more proactive in the first place, there would have been no need for their PR machine to kick into gear against a player they had developed.

Yet, it's a peculiar aspect of a game whose traditional supporter base is working class that a player being underpaid, relative to his peers, is vilified while clubs who chew up and spit out other workers not up to the task are given a sympathetic ear by the masses.

Sterling was never going to win the battle for the hearts and minds of supporters of a club he wanted to leave but the most argued reason that he should stay at Liverpool was how much he had developed under Brendan Rodgers, who was building a team around him.

Three months after Sterling left, the club who had hoped he would be loyal to them, sacked Rodgers.

Sterling might have been badly advised around the manner of his departure but, like Cole, he was already in a no-win situation. Whether you say nothing or give an interview, you'll get slaughtered.

Enormous

For the moment, Sterling is doing most of his talking on the pitch, and as he heads towards his 250th senior club appearance, his potential at the age of 22 remains enormous.

His best season at Liverpool came alongside Luis Suarez who, obviously, made everybody at the club a better player, but there was a connection between the two which belied Sterling's teenage years in terms of football intelligence.

In Pep Guardiola, Sterling has someone with a relentless desire to teach and coach his players; that might sound like every manager's job but, in reality, many are content to ride the wave of the talent available to them without trying to make their players even better.

Sterling may well go into next summer's World Cup with a Premier League medal as one of City's key players, but a poor tournament in the national jersey will, in all likelihood, see him vilified again by those who can't grasp that being managed by Pep Guardiola rather than Gareth Southgate might produce a better standard of performance.

At least, this time, he'll know to avoid buying anything nice for his mother when he gets home.

Irish Independent

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