Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling will not play in this Thursday’s England match against Montenegro.
Sterling will sit out the penultimate UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying match for his part in a bust-up with Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, reportedly in the England canteen, a day after the pair met at Anfield.Embed from Getty Images
Sterling’s apology has been accepted and his explanation was clear. He remains in the camp for the second match of the international week, against Kosovo on Sunday evening.
With the incident already in the past as far as the two players and England manager Gareth Southgate are concerned, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how this incident has been handled.
Sterling is England’s best player. He reported for England duty still bristling from Sunday’s match, which City lost 3-1.
Southgate acted accordingly and the message is clear: it doesn’t matter who you play for or how good you are, you are expected to leave your club baggage at home.
England has been a united camp for some time and it’s crucial, therefore, that Southgate took action. All the communication has been carefully worded, condemning the crossing of a line rather than the behaviour of a player.
Sterling, in effect, has been suspended on a technicality with no further harm being done.
And quite right, too. Southgate couldn’t let it go, nor should he have sent Sterling home.
We don’t know the exact nature of the incident beyond what has been reported and what we can infer from Gomez’s lack of sanction.
But as an England supporter I watched Sunday’s game and saw a clearly fired-up Sterling provoked by fellow England players who might reflect on their own part in his reaction.
He is, after all, their team-mate. The extent to which that influences how they interact during club matches is debatable, but England’s unity is their greatest weapon.
Gomez’s clash with Sterling on Sunday was, it seemed, something and nothing. A much earlier set-to with Trent Alexander-Arnold was more concerning and it was the Liverpool player who appeared in the wrong.
Nevertheless, the requirement to rise above it all was Sterling’s on this occasion, and he fell short. Gomez, reportedly, did rather better on Monday.