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A Love Letter to Raheem Sterling - A Week in the City

As the international break comes to a close, it's evident that things have shifted across English football. Joe Butterfield tells us why Raheem Sterling and Alexis Sanchez find themselves enjoying very different fortunes...

Eating Greggs and buying batteries from Poundland doesn't make you a bad person

So, Raheem Sterling has finally scored goals for England, including a hat-trick against Czech Republic last Friday. Is it a coincidence that the negative press which has plagued his entire career, exacerbated since leaving Liverpool, has finally started to see some backlash and now he’s performing well on the international stage? Is it a coincidence that the nation’s media and pundits are finally acknowledging that, after a season of 18 Premier League goals and currently on 15 goals in 27 appearances in the league, he’s not a speed merchant who’s got no bottle in front of goal and therefore he is actually starting to live up to this for the national team?

Must be.

Of course, the two performances, particularly the hat-trick, have made fans and media alike finally sit upright in their cigarette-stained armchairs and say, “hang about, Raheem Sterling is actually pretty good!” These are, naturally, the same people whose entire opinion of Sterling is based entirely on the press coverage surrounding him, as well as the historical, easy assumption that he’s got no finishing ability.

It’s also informed by his previous national team performances in which he hasn't exactly reached the standards set by club level. A lot of people pointed fingers at him during the World Cup because he didn’t score any goals after a good season with his club, however he was still dragging defenders with him and getting in the right positions (including one particular position against Croatia in which a simple sideways pass from Harry Kane would have seen him with a tap in to give us a lead). But no, Raz didn’t score in the World Cup, so he must have been terrible and therefore he must be a terrible player.

Still, I can forgive this. I probably couldn’t tell you how good a player most Premier League players are, at least not beyond a vague generalisation. For example, I think Ross Barkley is a bit of a brain-dead footballer who hasn’t developed at all since his breakout season at Everton in 2013/14. I could be well off the mark but ultimately, I don’t watch Chelsea every week, so my footballing opinion has every reason to be incorrect.

What is much more frustrating, however, is the revelation that has followed his goal against Montenegro, after which he celebrated by cupping his ears to the Montenegrin crowd in response to racist chants which had been hurled at Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose throughout the game. The revelation that he's actually a nice guy.

The post, and the response it's garnered, is a great thing to see. Seeing Raheem be a leading man in the fight against racism in football, much like John Barnes was in his day, is incredible and it speaks volumes about the character of a man who could be forgiven for sacking football off a long time ago, deeming it not worth the cartoonish levels of hatred he receives on a daily basis from fans and media alike. This followed a celebration during the Czech Republic game, in which he revealed a t-shirt underneath his kit commemorating a 13-year-old Crystal Palace player, Damary Dawkins, who sadly lost his battle with leukaemia days earlier.

Whilst it’s very heartwarming to see Raheem finally get the affection from the nation that is long overdue, it frustrates me that I almost feel grateful for the fact that people are giving him this praise. I’m angry that the last four years of Sterling’s career have beaten down even his most staunch defenders to a point where the fact that a young man who had the temerity to, at the age of 20, leave Liverpool for a team capable of winning trophies on a regular basis has finally got some praise is seen as some sort of victory.

This shouldn’t be how it is.

I shouldn’t be sitting here feeling thankful that the nation’s mainstream media is finally calling Raheem Sterling what he is - a talented, intelligent, kind, selfless man who is not at all deserving of the heaps of abuse that has been piled onto him by the likes of The Sun and The Daily Mail, driven by nothing more than the fact he happens to have Jamaican heritage. This shouldn’t be the status quo.

Raheem should have been getting this treatment from the start. When he earned his move to City he should have been given the hype and the good will that has been afforded to Marcus Rashford. Instead, every turn in his career has been caveated by a transfer fee which he had nothing to do with. Every great game has been met with a “yeah, but what about that chance he missed?” Every acknowledgement of his prodigious talent has been hindered by the assertion that he can’t hit a barn door, despite the fact that he’s hit double-figure goal tallies in every season since 2013.

Of course, we all know who is predominantly to blame for this. The cult which normalised the abuse Raheem Sterling has received over the last four years. Aldridge. Rush. Carragher. Gerrard. Every single one of them took any opportunity which was afforded them to take digs at a young lad who was navigating a contract negotiation under the influence of a pretty poor agent. Every single one of them pushed the narrative that this player who had moved to a football club that isn’t Liverpool in order to win trophies could only possibly have done so for the money.

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Soon the narrative became ‘Raheem Sterling - money grabber’. The Sun and the Daily Mail slowly made it ‘Raheem Sterling - black money grabber’, building on the foundation laid by the Liverpool media bandits, and now we find ourselves here, with mainstream media having taken nearly half a decade to have the balls to print an antithesis to this narrative which portrays him as some kind of pantomime villain for flying in a private jet before doing the exact same thing when he flies EasyJet. Only now they have the audacity to treat the abuse he got as unacceptable and are finally acknowledging the obvious racial motivation behind the headlines. Where were you three years ago?

The manner in which he’s dealt with it all is something to be admired by every single person in the country. The fact that he’s mature enough to have taken the high-ground and even make jokes with the likes of Piers Morgan on Twitter, a man who rocked up with the biggest of pitchforks when he spotted a tattoo of a gun on Sterling’s leg a year after he’d got it done and still to this day maintains that none of the abuse he’s received is motivated by race, epitomises the values that Raheem Sterling holds. You don’t block the haters, you don’t shut them down, you simply get on with things and prove them wrong. Make them look stupid for hating you in the first place. Show them you’re better than they are.

I’m happy for Raheem. I truly am. This praise and appreciation has been a long time coming and I hope he’s looked back on in decades to come in the same way John Barnes is now - an insanely talented player who overcame prejudices and what can only be described as bullying from large swathes of media to develop into one of the best players in the country. Just don’t expect me to be grateful.

Alexis Sanchez has ruined United

Now, many of us City fans (myself included) weren’t over the moon when we heard that, after a summer transfer window in which signing Alexis Sanchez seemed almost inevitable, we’d missed out on signing him the following January to Manchester United, of all clubs. Of course, as soon as any details of the Chilean’s contract were made public knowledge, most notably his nearly £500,000 per week wages, the true reason for his decision to leave Arsenal to join United was made clear.

Much like in the cases of Jorginho and Virgil van Dijk, Txiki Begiristain and the rest of the club’s hierarchy decided that, much as they may have wanted the player, the financial outlay wasn’t worth it. In the words of Khaldoon in the All Or Nothing documentary, “the economics simply didn’t work for us anymore”. Given that Sanchez would be walking in on wages which doubled both that of Aguero, the club’s all-time top goalscorer and star striker, and Kevin De Bruyne, the best player in the league at that time who was in the midst of contract negotiations, the long-term effects would have been far reaching and would have vastly outweighed any short-term gain.

So, here we are over a year after that transfer, and where do the clubs find themselves respectively? City managed to survive the rest of the season without the services of Sanchez, going on to win the league with 100 points and now find themselves in a title race with a legitimate chance of winning four trophies this season. Manchester United huffed and puffed their way to a default second place last season, have since sacked their manager and now find themselves out of all domestic competitions with a game against Barcelona standing between them and a semi-final against Liverpool. In this time, Manchester United have paid Sanchez over £30 million and he has rewarded the club with 5 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions.

James Ducker has written a piece in The Telegraph detailing exactly what impact Sanchez’s transfer has had on the Salford club and, whilst the on-pitch performances are both concerning and outright terrible, it’s off the pitch where the real ramifications are being felt. The huge, inflated contract of Sanchez is making players who are actually good at football want more money and, whilst there’s only a few of those at United, they’re naturally their best players.

De Gea is looking to double his already very high wage of £240,000 per week. Ander Herrera, a thoroughly average midfielder in the grand scheme of world football, is also reportedly making demands way beyond the club’s intended limit. Even Juan Mata, a man who is apparently so nice that he’s “impossible to hate” as accounts like “@footybantz69” and “@mercurialnani” so often like to tell us, is making unreasonable wage demands, which is particularly funny because he’s just a BTEC David Silva. This is before United have even sat at the table with the behemoth that is Mino Raiola to discuss new contract terms with the World Cup winning marketing machine that is Paul Pogba. Mino will absolutely want a slice of both the figurative and literal pie.

Manchester City, on the other hand? The wage structure is thoroughly intact. Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Phil Foden have each signed new contracts this season, with Leroy Sané and Oleksandr Zinchenko reportedly ready to follow suit. We’re keeping hold of our best players with relative ease, whilst United’s best player was one broken fax machine away from joining Real Madrid and their record signing is also starting to give it the “who knows what the future holds”.

In Txiki we trust.

You can follow Joe on Twitter: @joebutters

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