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Raheem Sterling has admitted he understands the frenzied reaction to the tattoo of a M16 assault rifle inked on his right calf but has not been affected by the furore, with the forward intent upon making his own mark at the summer’s World Cup finals.
The Manchester City forward will fulfil a lifetime ambition by wearing the England No 10 shirt in Russia – he even sports another tattoo of the shirt number on his arm signifying his days in the youth team at Queens Park Rangers – and will go into the tournament fit and focused. The 23-year-old urged the team to prove themselves “more arrogant and streetwise” than at previous finals and as Gareth Southgate’s side completed their preparations with the visit of Costa Rica to Elland Road on Thursday.
Sterling had addressed his late arrival at the national squad’s training camp following Saturday’s friendly victory over
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Nigeria, conceding he would have accepted being dropped. But, speaking as all 23 of the party took part in a speed-dating style interview session in the St George’s Park futsal hall on Tuesday, he confronted the fall-out from the tattoo more fully.
The image of the gun on his leg had been photographed during an England training session and provoked an outcry in some quarters, with Lucy Cope, who founded Mothers Against Guns after her son Damian was shot dead outside a club in London in 2002, claiming the tattoo was “totally unacceptable”.
The player had taken to social media to explain the picture had a deeper meaning given he was two years old when his father was shot dead, and he had promised he “would never touch a gun”. Asked about the criticism, Sterling said: “No, I can see, most definitely, where they’re coming from. You see a gun on someone’s leg, you are going to automatically think, ‘What the hell
are you doing?’ But, from my point of view, I’ve had that since August or September, I know there’ve been pictures of it before so why, at this moment in time, does it get reported about?
“I don’t really take it personally. Me and my mum and my agent sometimes talk about it. Little things, like what happened
the other day, people expect me to be really affected by it, but I’ve been through harder stuff in my life to get down by that, so that’s the least of my worries. I don’t feel there’s an agenda against me. People ask: ‘Do you feel picked on?’ And I don’t at all. As I said, I can see the reasons.
“The boys have seen I haven’t been affected by it, they know I’m fine. If they did see something wrong they would be the first to come to me. I’ve got a massive opportunity here, with a great bunch of players, to represent England at a World Cup, and that’s my biggest focus now. And that tattoo [story], it’s going to be spoken [about] for one or two days. Football is the most important thing now.”
Danny Rose, Jamie Vardy and Jack Butland are expected to start against Costa Rica when Sterling, who wore England’s No19 at the 2014 finals and No7 at Euro 2016, hopes Southgate’s side demonstrate the kind of streetwise streak they will need at the finals.
“We need to control games and be a bit more arrogant with the ball,” said the City player, who was booked for a perceived dive by the Italian referee on Saturday. “I’m sorry to say it, but we have to be more arrogant and more streetwise because we are coming up against some great teams who have that streetwise mentality. They bring their
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play into it: you do what you have to do to win a game. Simple as that. Be streetwise and clever.
“Watch the Champions League final and when Liverpool go 3-1 down, the way Madrid control the game. They have that winning mentality in big games, not doing anything silly. No panic. They see the game out and once we get that, we’ll be a really good team. The one thing I don’t like hearing is someone saying, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ Forget all of that. I’m not coming here to spend five or six weeks of my life to say, ‘Let’s see what happens and, hopefully, last 16.’
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