Raheem Sterling is not willing to let Gareth Southgate take all the bullets.
“It’s not up to Gareth to take the blame,” Sterling said yesterday. “We have players who can also take responsibility and that starts with these performances.”
Sterling speaks from a position of knowledge. He has been exactly where Southgate is at the moment – in the eye of the storm, taking advantage of his own supporters while representing England.
Raheem Sterling is quick to defend under attack boss Gareth Southgat
“I remember coming with the national team, there was a period when I first got into the squad, it was really fun – and there was a period when I was really dreading it,” Sterling recalls.
‘My mentality was: OK doesn’t matter, good or bad. I had to focus only on myself and not listen to what the outside world said. That is certainly something that has served me well. Not only here with the national team, but also away from football, to stay sober and focused and not listen to the noise.
“That’s a message that can be carried with the team here in the coming months. We know there will be noise and we really need to block it if we want to do well at the World Cup.”
Chelsea forward Sterling has a very close working relationship with the England manager
It’s no surprise that the Chelsea star came out swinging for his international manager on Sunday.
The couple share a close relationship. When things didn’t go so well for Sterling under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City last season, Southgate was always there – ready to listen and offer support.
Sterling won’t forget that. But what he can’t do is disguise England’s sad form: no wins in five games, no goals in open play for 450 minutes.
As much as Sterling tries to defend his boss, he knows he can’t stop the criticism.
Sterling was unable to help England to a positive result against Italy as they fell back to a 1-0 loss
“Of course it’s not nice to see one of your colleagues or manager getting criticized,” the attacker said. “But we know what it’s like to play at this level and I think he knows what it’s like to manage at this level, to be an England manager.
‘We know exactly what is involved. It could be one or two results and that whole story could change. It’s not something we’re surprised about. We are expected to win. We are expected to produce good football and I don’t think it has been at that level in recent months.
“I think he understands that. I don’t think he feels threatened. I think he’s up for the challenge of making it up. We have a chance to do that against Germany and of course at the World Cup.
“I understand why people are panicking with the World Cup so close and the results are not going the way we would like and they would like, I understand that. But of course, from the team’s perspective, there are many things at play. That’s not to make excuses – we take responsibility, knowing the results haven’t been good and we need to fix that.”
If England are to correct the mistakes of a miserable four-month spell, Sterling will remain crucial.
Sterling, one of the few truly world-class talents in the England squad, remains an integral part of Southgate’s plans.
Right now Southgate needs Sterling more than ever. Judging by the player’s comments on Sunday, the England squad are poised to succor their manager in his hour of need.
“There are things that we talk about and the most important thing that comes out of those messages is the performances.
Sterling starred for the Three Lions as they reached the Euro 2020 final
“The manager can play any system he wants, but when we go out on the pitch, we have to have the mentality that we are not just on the pitch to be on the pitch, but we also have to have that winning mentality.
“That’s the message of the past few days when the guys are speaking – it’s pulling more apart, pushing each other, taking criticism.
“If someone does something wrong, we have to push each other to get the best for the team.”
When asked if the players should be brutally honest with each other, Sterling replied: ‘Yeah, that’s where we are.
“I don’t think it’s about fighting or doing something stupid like that. When something isn’t right on the pitch and someone isn’t doing what they should be doing, we have a lot of players who are vocal.”