Raheem Sterling has been the talk of football in recent days.
Unfortunately, it has come via apparent racial abuse of the forward in his side’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea, rather than to do with the game in and of itself.
The topic of Sterling and racism in football seemed to reach a crescendo just prior to this year’s World Cup, but of course, it has been simmering since his Liverpool days.
In that regard, Gary Neville has revealed how the Manchester City star confided in him during Euro 2016, when the Sky Sports pundit was part of the English national team set-up.
He told how even then the 24-year-old was struggling with the treatment he was receiving from certain sections of the media and fan-base.
“He came to see me one-on-one in 2016, three or four days before the Iceland game,” Neville said on Monday Night Football.
“Pre-tournament, he was getting absolutely battered going into that tournament. Getting so much stick, we were aware of that within the coaching staff that fans and media were onto him, asking a lot of questions about him. It then continued into the tournament in the stadiums to the point that there were those groans, boos and little things.
“It takes a lot for a player to come and see a coach. He walked in and started to unload on me: ‘Why was this happening, why was this so personal’. He accepted that he would get criticism for playing for England for his performances, he accepted that he would be scrutinised as an England player, he didn’t want any special treatment but that it was so vicious, he felt so targeted. He didn’t know what to do about it.”
Neville acknowledged that perhaps he didn’t address it in an ideal manner, and compared the treatment to the vitriol received by David Beckham who became public enemy number one in the wake of the 1998 World Cup.
He intimated that approaching it in terms of regular player abuse as opposed to the racial ‘undertones’ was a mistake.
“Reflecting on it yesterday, I didn’t really know how to deal with it,” he admitted. “I went into ‘protective mode’, coach mode. He’s one of our most important players, how would you get him ready for the next match?
“‘Raheem you’re a great player, we love you to bits’ – which to be fair we did – as a coaching staff, and, by trying to patch him up, you’d never be dealing with the underlying issue, and maybe you never would be able to in that sort of one on one session. But actually, reflecting now, maybe we were brushing it aside a little bit.
“I’ve lived closely, with David Beckham, with Wayne Rooney, played in Euro 96 with Paul Gascoigne. But the nastiness that I think is there, and looking back at that time, trying to patch him up, was that the right reaction?”
— Sky Sports MNF (@SkySportsMNF) December 10, 2018