Raheem Sterling has been in the news for all the wrong reasons as England prepare for the upcoming World Cup. Some sections of supporters (or tabloids at least) are even claiming he should be dropped from the squad altogether, but haven’t we been here before?
The British media has a terrible habit of cutting down the England national team before they’ve even had the chance to fail. A sort of pre-emptive misery, listing all the reasons England won’t succeed and it seems even something as trivial as a tattoo is enough to derail the hopes of a nation.
It can seem like a cheap excuse to the older fan but it’s easy to forget the human element of football and all of this negative attention will have an effect on a player’s mindset.
Now the problems with Sterling, unfortunately, run deeper than a tattoo of a gun, what with his poor timekeeping and recent dive against Nigeria. There is no excusing his unprofessional behaviour, but he has apologised to his teammates and if that’s enough for them it should be enough for everyone.
More importantly, instead of focusing all of this negative attention towards the forward, he’s exactly the kind of player fans should be getting behind because he can make a difference for England this summer.
Sterling was one of the stars of that record-breaking Manchester City side that stormed to the title this season. He scored 23 goals in all competitions for the Citizens, finishing as the league’s fifth-highest scorer.
He also notched up 11 assists putting him behind only Mo Salah and Harry Kane for combined efforts. If there was one criticism of the young forward it was his lack of end product but he has dispelled that under Pep Guardiola this season.
His international strike rate still looks spotty but it will only improve in time and he looked at home in Gareth Southgate’s new formation. Sterling again drew critics with his performance against Nigeria but nobody caused more problems for their back line.
A willing runner, Sterling pursued every ball across the entire final third out of possession and showed great intelligence with his movement and link up play whilst England were attacking.
The Nigeria defence had no answer for Sterling who breached the back line on more than one occasion and perhaps should have notched up a goal or at least an assist. He was wasteful with the positions he found, not least with his poor dive into the box but he was a constant menace for Nigeria.
England are going to need players of his calibre to open up more rigid back lines like they’ll face in Belgium. With 38 caps he’s also one of the more experienced members of this squad at the age of just 23.
His talent is undeniable and he has proven for City this season that he can impact games. Not only should Sterling be in the squad, he should be a definite starter, and we should all be thrilled about it.