Belfast Telegraph

Sterling not negatively affected by scrutiny over gun tattoo

The England striker was criticised in the media but has received the support of the Football Association.

Raheem Sterling insists scrutiny surrounding his gun tattoo has not negatively affected World Cup preparations, with the England forward instead taking heart from the love showed to him by the public.

Even for a player that has grown up in the spotlight, the past week must have felt intense for the 23-year-old.

Sterling’s unfinished leg tattoo of a gun brought criticism from sections of the media at the start of last week, leading the Football Association to express its full support of a player who explained it was in tribute to his father after he was gunned down in Jamaica when the forward was just two.

There was further scrutiny after Sterling took a tumble in Saturday’s friendly win against Nigeria – a match he was going to be dropped for having reported late for camp, only for manager Gareth Southgate to change his mind after the player came under attack for his tattoo.

Sterling said: “(This week) it’s not really been that tough. Things happened and get spoken about, but I put that to one side. I’ve been focused on training and playing Nigeria, so for me it was a normal week to be honest.

“The only thing that changed was that I was in the newspapers a bit more. I just got on with my day. I spoke with my mum and she was OK. My daughter and my son are OK, I’m fine.

“That was the least of my worries. It’s obviously bad to see yourself spoken of in that light, but it’s not something that gets me down.

“I’ve got a World Cup to prepare for and I’ve had training sessions every day, so my mind was already occupied. That was the least of my worries.”

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Sterling has, though, been aware of the widespread public support – backing that has not always been there.

“I heard that there was a lot of positives,” Sterling, who referred to himself as ‘The Hated One’ at Euro 2016, said.

“I am grateful to see stuff like that and it just shows how far I am coming and how much the people are really taking to me as a person. Because they can probably see my true colours and my true personality, so it’s really good to see.”

Sterling was peppered with questions during a 45-minute open media session at St George’s Park, just days after England beat Nigeria 2-1 in their penultimate World Cup warm-up friendly.

The 23-year-old lined up in attack with Harry Kane at Wembley, where he wasted a couple of good chances to score to leave his international record at just two goals in 38 games.

“I thought we played well as a team,” Sterling said. “The first 45 minutes was some great football – probably some of the best we’ve played all year.

“So, it’s a lot of positives to take from that and a lot of positives to build on as well. I am not really desperate (to score), you know?

“If the team goes all the way and does really well and wins every game and I don’t score, I am telling you I’ll be more than excited.

“As long as we do progress and do well, as long as I can help, if I don’t score it’s not the biggest issue in the world as long as we do well. That’s my main focus. But the goals will come, and I am sure of that.”

Sterling may well get another chance to score when England line up against Costa Rica at Elland Road in Leeds this Thursday.

A brief break follows the final friendly before an internal game and the squad jetting off to Russia on June 12.

Asked if he was desperate to get out there and get started, Sterling said: “No, you take your time, prepare how we have and take every moment as it comes, every day as it comes.

“Prepare right and when that moment comes that you are ready.”

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