FIFA World Cup 2018: Raheem Sterling remains key for England ahead of Croatia clash

‘Footie idiot’, ‘Prem rat of the Caribbean’, ‘pampered star’, ‘obscene’, ‘greedy’. These are among the long list of derogatory terms used by prominent British newspapers over the years to describe Raheem Sterling.

There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind the constant demonisation of Sterling. Born in Jamaica, Sterling had immigrated to England with his mother at the age of five.

He has subsequently risen from working class roots to become one of English football’s biggest stars.

However, irrespective of his form on the field, Sterling has often been fodder for the media back home. Social media users have over the years accused The Sun, in particular, of racism over its constant heckling of the England star.

But this British tabloid is not alone in its apparent dislike for Sterling. As England’s win over Sweden in the quarter-finals highlighted, Sterling’s role on the pitch could also be open to misinterpretation.

The Manchester City winger was one of the team’s best players last Saturday. His high work-rate, deceptive movement both and off the ball and his positioning helped open space in the final third for both Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli.

It is a role that Sterling has been employed in throughout the tournament by coach Gareth Southgate. Unlike his traditional role as a winger at Manchester City, Sterling has been playing up front with Harry Kane.

However, unlike a traditional striker, he has been tasked with floating around the pitch, sometimes even dropping deep down to central midfield. What this has managed to accomplish is draw the holding midfielder or a centre-back from the opposition and free up space for Alli and Lingard to aid Kane.

Andreas Granqvist, in particular, had trouble negotiating Sterling’s runs on Saturday. But shortly after the Sweden game, a popular BBC fans’ poll rated Sterling as England’s worst player, possibly because of his failure to score from a gilt-edged opportunity. He was also slammed by many social media users during the game.

Sterling has never been the best of finishers and despite improving in this department under Pep Guardiola, he continues to lag behind traditional strikers.

However, Sterling’s criticism on social and mainstream media after the Sweden game has prompted a conversation over his role in the England team.

David Beckham termed the criticism ‘wrong’ on his Instagram account while Gary Neville called it ‘absolutely disgusting’ on Sky Sports. Geoff Hurst, England’s 1966 World Cup hero, described Sterling’s performance against Sweden as his best in this campaign.

Another England great, Gary Lineker, hailed Sterling’s movement and workrate against Sweden, calling him a ‘player’s player’.

Against Croatia, Sterling may have his most important game to play yet.

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