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Raheem Sterling criticism 'tinged with racism'

VILLAINIZED: Raheem Sterling

UNLESS YOU'RE an Arsenal fan, you might have enjoyed- as I did- Raheem Sterling’s goal for Manchester City on Sunday.

It was not only his 50th in the Premier League but, as one of my colleagues at Kick It Out said, a very un-Englandy goal, by which they meant that it was the kind Raheem would score for Manchester City- cutting in, running across defenders and shooting from the edge of the area – but not for his country- not lately anyway.

He didn’t let the moment pass without a “cupped ear” pose in front of the home fans; “There's been a lot of talking so I put a little celebration in there. It's just one of those things, a player in one of those positions that's what I get judged on. Just got to keep on going."

The criticism he was referring to was for his performances for England in Russia – he was consistently voted one of his country’s worst performers on the BBC’s player rating app and got his usual hostility among the keyboard warriors of social media.

Meanwhile, respected coaches adore him - Pep Guardiola bought him, has improved his performance and wants him to stay with Manchester City for a long time.

Gareth Southgate picks him even when he has not had his best performances. Raheem always gives his best efforts and never hides, even when it is not going for him.

Ian Wright says he knows why he gets singled out- “There is a certain amount of racism towards it - what else can it be? They are picking on him because of the background he has come from and they want to keep him down, drag him back down.

"People say you are playing the racism card, but you give me a good reason why Raheem Sterling gets the stick he gets for just being a footballer."

Ian deserves praise for using his influential role to highlight this issue – for speaking out where others have tiptoed around.
A glance at the papers over the last few years tends to support Ian’s view. Raheem Sterling has- often on the front page – been accused of;

- Being “tired” at 3 o’clock in the morning
- Buying his mum an expensive sink
- Flying on Easyjet
- Buying batteries in Poundland and clothes in Primark
- Not cleaning his car
- Proposing to his girlfriend
- And eating breakfast after a night out.


SPEAKING OUT: Ian Wright

The absurdity of these stories being “news” is for another discussion but there are others that have some of the undertones Ian Wright is referring to.

There’s the gun tattoo story – a tribute to Sterling’s murdered father - I've gone on the record as saying in my personal view that it was “weird” but did it merit the calls for him to be left out of the World Cup squad? Emphatically not.

But when Jordan Pickford’s knife/blade/dagger tattoo was “revealed”, not a word of criticism from the same angry newspapers so busy fulminating against the Manchester City winger.

Also, Raheem Sterling has had another tattoo done recently- one of him getting a kiss from his one year old son Thiago. Even the Sun and the Mail have struggled to find a problem with that.

There are the constant references to Raheem’s Jamaican background and childhood that stick in the throat – as if that in itself is a sign of a poor character. It makes you wonder if he’ll be English when things are going well and Jamaican when they aren’t. There are the references to “bling” too -he was even crowned the “King of Bling” in one tabloid.

Sterling responded to this point in a moving and thoughtful article he wrote in the Player’s Tribune; “There’s a perception in certain parts of the media that I love “bling.” I love diamonds. I love to show off.

"I really don’t understand where that comes from. Especially when I bought my mum a house, it was unbelievable what some people were writing. I think it’s really sad that people do that. They hate what they don’t even know.”

The 23 year-old is successful and well-off by anybody’s standards- the red-top sniping at him does smack of resentment towards a young, black man from humble roots, as if he’s somehow not entitled to enjoy the fruits of his hard work, talent and dedication.

So I can see Wrighty’s point. But there may be another side to this. Football loves a pantomime villain. Indeed, some players- John “Fash the Bash” Fashanu and Paul Ince come immediately to mind- reveled in it to a certain extent, they liked winding up the crowd, gaining an advantage, drawing the heat.

Even Ian Wright himself I'm sure loved hearing the taunts (and I'm not talking about racist abuse here) of the opposition fans and shutting them up with yet another goal.

It may also be that the criticism Raheem Sterling has faced about his performances ON the pitch are fair or are at least meant sincerely.

Look at Paul Pogba – attacked in print for his performances for Manchester United, lionised by the same writers for his form in the blue shirt of France.

But when people knock Pogba – or say, Marcus Rashford – for their on-field performances there doesn’t seem to be the same “edge” to it.

So is there a racial undercurrent to the coverage about one of England’s brightest young talents? Would a similarly mercurial white player be treated the same?

Ian Wright says no and I think he’s correct but we should be careful of getting caught in an entrenched position here.

There’s one side that sees every criticism of Raheem Sterling as covertly or overtly racist and there’s another that sees him as a high-profile sportsman who should just take it on the chin- it goes with the turf of the fame and the fortune.

But while we try to work it out, let me ask some questions of the people running the game.

Where is the FA on this? where is the Premier League on this? Where are the PFA and LMA on this? Where are the voices of the leaders in football on this? Are they happy to see a young black talent driven out of the English game because he is vilified unreasonably and unjustifiably while the governing bodies maintained a shameful silence?

Ian Wright has spoken out and I applaud him for it. We at Kick It Out will speak out too – how many influential figures in the game will join us?

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