After England fell short of qualifying from the group stages of the World Cup in Brazil, there was a strange feeling on our small island. Despite coming up well short to an Italy team in transition, a reasonably strong Uruguay and Central American minnows Costa Rica, there was a sense of pride amongst English fans. Roy Hodgson’s lions were refreshing in terms of both youth and application, and installed hope for the future of English football.
Of the young players that will be leading England into future World Cups (we hope), one that instantly springs to mind is the fleet-footed Raheem Sterling. Yet the diminutive forward has been on the receiving end of some rather harsh words of late, perhaps rightly so, but we must treat one of our country’s finest with care.
The first criticism levelled at the Liverpool forward has been his desire for money. It has been widely rumoured that Sterling has rejected a deal worth £100,000 a year, nearly triple the amount he currently earns, but Sterling insists he is not simply a “money grabbing 20-year-old.” I cannot help but agree.
The career of a footballer is short. If you combine talent and hard work you may be able to break into the first team of a Premier League club of the stature of Liverpool just shy of 20, like Sterling. Six to seven years later, you are at your peak until you hit the deadly 30 years of age, where many steadily decline. Attempting to amass finance for the rest of one’s life, after a career spanning only fifteen years at the top, is hardly unique or greedy.
What many people find difficult to comprehend is the scale of footballer’s wages, myself included. In terms of finance footballers do not live in the same world as you and I, but comparisons can be made in other walks of life. Bankers, for example, are applauded for extracting more and more earnings, in a culture of mass corruption.
Once more, lets not forget the voice of Aidy Ward that is almost certainly feeding into the ears of Raheem Sterling. Like all agents, Ward will be doing his upmost to ensure his client is receiving the best of the best, otherwise he would not be doing his job. At the age of 20 it is easy to be influenced by those around you. Sterling most probably is, as have many a footballer.
Furthermore, why is it out of the question that Sterling may not even be motivated solely by money? Sterling is one of the most sought after players in World football and at the drop of a hat could engineer a move to nearly any elite club, where he could achieve more in terms of trophies. The mighty Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid has publicly admitted to be monitoring the progress of Sterling.
In an interview with the BBC, Sterling revealed his thirst for silverware, silverware he may not get at Liverpool: “It’s never been about money. I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That’s all I talk about.”
Now Sterling is being attacked left, right and centre after footage has emerged of him inhaling nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. The second most popular drug amongst young adults after cannabis, Sterling’s association with laughing gas is an outright rejection of his responsibility as a high-profile sportsman.
But we too are disregarding simple facts; the most prominent being that Sterling is just 20 years old. Ever heard of the wise old saying, ‘learn from your mistakes’. The very people who are attacking Sterling are probably the same people who have done equally stupid things and should not cast judgement. The same people are also greedy in their effort to profit on another’s misfortune by selling papers. Religious or not, I would like to point Sterling’s criticisers to the Bible – “let he is without sin, be the first to throw the first stone.”
Bobby Barnes, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, is quite right in his observation of the controversy surrounding the England international: “He’s made a mistake and people are human… many of us look back at things we did in our teens and early twenties and we wish we hadn’t done them. I am sure this will be a minor blip on his path to a fantastic career.”
I must stress I am not condoning Sterling’s actions but I think it is time to let Sterling do what he is so lavishly paid to do, and that is to play football.
By Conor O’Connell