Pep Guardiola pitched things just right.
“He made a mistake because he’s 23 years old.”
It was in reference to Raheem Sterling’s trip which ended up being given as a penalty by referee Viktor Kassai in Manchester City’s Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk.
The controversial incident was not of the player’s doing, however, social media and some online media outlets used it as yet another stick to proverbially beat him with.
Has there ever been a footballer that has been as vilified by the press and otherwise? Hard to think of anyone who comes close.
No matter that he’s playing some of the best football of his career at City, and for England too. The agenda towards Sterling is, frankly, frightening.
He gets a new tattoo, it’s headline news. He spends money on his family it’s headline news. He’s out with friends, it’s headline news.
Perhaps what is at the root of all of this is that media are desperate to get the rise out of a young man who, by those who know him best, is said to be decent, honourable and loyal.
All of the qualities that you’d want from your footballing role models.
“I think it’s time I realised it’s unfair because I don’t know why you should criticise Raheem,” Guardiola told a news conference in the wake of the penalty incident.
“He was not diving, it was a bad mistake from the referee.
“He is an incredibly nice guy with incredible love from the dressing room. He does absolutely everything on the pitch, every single game, fighting from the front for 90 minutes.
“We cannot forget, he is 23 years old, when you are 23, you are not a full person or a full player.
“Sometimes we ask for or we demand a lot from our players when they are so still young.”
It’s what makes the unprovoked attacks on him even more unpalatable. They’ll go after a young player and keep turning the screw and cranking up the pressure, but wouldn’t dare joust with someone older and more experienced.
Thanks to Guardiola’s own level-headedness, and the love of those around him, Sterling has been able to continue to focus on his football, with no noticeable drop in his standards.
That also says an awful lot about his own strength of character.
There needs to be a stop put to such incessant hounding of him, however. It’s gone beyond a joke and serves no purpose whatsoever.
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