Attempting to understand the psyche of Raheem Sterling’s haters and the recent, vehement campaign against him might seem puzzling at first. But think back, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that everything falls in place. For your average supporter, Raheem Sterling manifests everything rotten about modern football.
From the race-infused threats to his daughter following his BBC interview, to the very, very weird booing and jeers he receives at every opposition ground, Raheem has suffered at, dare I say it, an unprecedented – yes, never seen before – rate in recent football history. It seems, every single aspect of his entire existence is enough to send half a nation seething foam at the very sight of him.
When Raheem Sterling buys his mum a house, a massive goal for many working-class kids let alone a black one, why is that “flaunting his wealth”? When Sterling did what many footballers have done unscathed and tried to move to a better club why was he told to “shut his mouth” and play position from ex-players, media and the pundits.
Raheem Sterling’s performances at the European Championships were sub-standard. His bright start to the season tailed off with an injury and deselection. But why the vicious, mechanical character assasinations? Or the horrible, magnified newspaper stories with racial undertones? Why isn’t he allowed off-games without every fibre of his character and game disected and scrutinised? What is it about young, black working-class kids doing well that sends people into fume overdrive? Why, rather than express pitiful dissapointment or even schadenfreude at a poor performance, would millions delve into vigorous fury?
Why was Raheem Sterling constantly reminded of what a honour and privelige it was to be offered a chance to play for Liverpool in a manner to suggest that they viewed him as nothing more than a little negro boy who dared ask for more?
Football isn’t a charity. You aren’t ‘offered a chance’. You’re picked because you’re good enough. Raheem Sterling, who was a boy wonder at QPR, didn’t owe Liverpool anything. What he did was the norm: he moved to a club that offered a better chance of winning trophies, better wages and a promise to work with the best manager in the world.
Raheem Sterling turned twenty-one last December. For someone so young and accomplished, he is scrutised at unbelievably unfair level. This a kid who has already played 176 professional games for two huge clubs. A kid who posts among the best numbers for anyone his age group year in year out. A kid who is a mainstay for his international side. And that’s what people seem to forget. He is just a kid. He may have tactical nous and maturity on the field far beyond his years. He may have just hit double figures for a third season in a row and he may have been personally selected by Pep Guardiola to lead his City revolution but at the end of the day that is what he is.
So the next time Sterling finds himself at the mercy of pundits and media alike. Or has a front page of a national newspaper dedicated to him buying a new ‘swanky sink’. Or falls on a sword for an entire nation, think about why that is. Think about why an entire nation is failing a kid they should be adoring.