Bacon's Bites: He's no 'Baby Bentley'. It's time to get off Sterling's back
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Mike Bacon takes a look at the hysteria that has surrounded Raheem Sterling and why it is time to knock it on the head.
I’ve never understood the anti-Raheem Sterling brigade’s beef.
And I’m not saying this just because the Manchester City winger was on target for England for the first time in about 4,000 games on Monday night against Spain.
Quite simply, I don’t get why he’s considered by many – especially those in the national press – as footballing public enemy No.1.
What has he done that is so criminal for goodness sake?
So, he and his agent made few friends on Merseyside after a big money move away from Liverpool to Man City. So what?
He was offered more money, it’s been proven he was right from a professional point of view to move because he has, so far, won more medals at the Etihad than if he had stayed at Anfield.
I totally understand Liverpool fans’ disappointment, even anger at what they perceive as Sterling’s lack of loyalty.
But he’s hardly the first player to move away from a club and earn more money.
I like Marty Waghorn.
But I find it hard to believe he moved to Derby from Ipswich Town for less money.
Maybe he did.
Maybe Waggy thought he had a better chance of reaching the Premier League with the Rams than the Blues.
Maybe he preferred the Peak District to the Suffolk coastline.
I don’t know and I don’t care.
Football, however, is dominated by money – whether you agree with it or not – from the Premier League to Non-league.
Don’t think Sterling is any different to any player at any level of the game when it comes to wanting to earn more. The difference between Sterling and many footballers is that he can easily earn more... Alot more!
OK, so he divides opinion, on and off the pitch.
Silky skills one minute, running into defenders the next. Goals a delight, poor crosses just exasperate.
He’s called Raheem (although that’s hardly his fault), rather than John, Luke, Dan or Oliver – that makes him a ‘target’ for no reason at all.
He tattoos a gun on his leg with gun crime on the increase in this country – Sterling’s father was shot dead when he was two years old.
However, he explained to anyone who was bothered to listen... “I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my life time, I shoot with my right foot.”
But add a bit of bling, flash cars, million-pound houses for his mum (and why not?)... And for some reason... There’s your target!
It’s not new.
We had a whole generation of ‘Baby Bentleys’ back at the turn of the millennium. And they copped just as much stick.
Yet while the England class of early to mid-2000s, that included Beckham, Gerard, Ferdinand, Lampard, Dyer, Owen et al, failed on the international stage, today’s England – Sterling included – at least make supporting England more bearable these days.
“I think the personal story of a lot of our players is quite remarkable,” England manager Gareth Southgate said recently.
“People often highlight the issues, the faults, of all of the squad, but for so many of them it’s incredible they’ve got to the point they have.
“Raheem Sterling embodies that. Nothing is given to you in life, you have to fight all the way.”
Ok, so England, with Sterling, have won nothing yet and his goals per game ratio for the national side is still pants.
But come on, how many of you enjoyed watching England beat Spain on Monday?
Or, like me, listened to Terry Butcher on Five-Live hollow with joy as the goals went in? (I do love the passion of Butcher).
And how many of us cheered Sterling to the rafters when he scored?
We all know, rightly or wrongly, footballers are there to be ‘shot down’ and the higher they play the further we seem to want them to fall.
But Sterling has been ‘shot down’ too many times and some of the lies and hysteria that have surrounded him have been nothing short of a disgrace.
He has two children, one with partner Paige Milian, who he met when a teenager at QPR, one from a previous relationship. He’s just 23 years of age.
It is not his fault he participates in a sport that has lost all sense of perspective when it comes to money.
He certainly isn’t the first and he won’t be the last England player to be pilloried.
But do we want him to go the same way as so many other England players who have failed to deliver on the world stage? Frozen by fear, frozen by media headlines.
Sterling is not a world beater yet and he appears, from the outside, to have plenty of courage to bat much of the hysteria away.
But, as he proved on Monday, he’s an English player with match-winning talent.
It’s time to get off his back.