For the past week the row between England stars Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez has dominated the football headlines. The pair clashed during Liverpool’s victory against Manchester City, in which tempers flared over the course of a thrilling game between the title favourites at Anfield last weekend.
Such incidents have become infamous over the years, such as the feud between Roy Keane and Patrick Vierra, reflecting the competitive nature of Premier League football.
However, the subsequent spat which occurred between the pair at England’s training ground, St George’s Park, whilst on international duty has raised questions over harmony within the group. Sterling was subsequently dropped for England’s match against Montenegro.
The incident in question allegedly came about in the canteen, when Gomez offered his hand to Sterling in an attempt to settle things, only for the latter to rebut the offer and grab Gomez aggressively. It’s been reported that their fellow teammates initially thought Sterling was joking, but it soon became clear he wasn’t and as a result it was decided that he should be excluded from the squad to face Montenegro.
Now, on the one hand this will concern Southgate, but at the same time it’s important to maintain a degree of perspective. Sterling and Gomez represent the two best teams in the league, and clearly this creates a degree of friction between them. Various ex-players such as Rio Ferdinand have previously said that hostility between players from rival clubs wasn’t uncommon when on international duty.
For all the glitz and glamour associated with these players’ lives, one can’t forget that they have a lot emotionally invested in the games they play, not least for Sterling at Anfield, where he was given a hostile reception by the crowd which used to chant his name. Unsurprisingly, various media outlets have tried to turn the affair into something bigger than it probably is, focusing on Sterling’s perceived arrogance.
Yes, he was wrong to react the way he did; yes, his actions warrant being dropped for the game against Montenegro; and yes, it’s not the best thing for the harmony of the squad. However, these issues tend to be blown out of proportion, and for all we know the pair could be absolutely fine with each other by now.
How many times do we applaud sport for being a ‘battlefield’ or a ‘colosseum’? These hyperboles serve a purpose, describing the fierce but respectful rivalries and individual battles that take place between players and teams.
The flip side of this is that, occasionally, the gladiators themselves embrace the feelings of the mob, and when they do it’s important to see it in the moment, rather than try to exaggerate the situation.
Nonetheless, the affair has visibly affected Southgate, and in press conferences this week he cut a concerned figure. During his three year reign over the England side, he’s managed to unite his players and breed the harmony that we saw at the Word Cup last year, harmony which will hopefully continue into the Euros next summer.
From that point of view, this affair will worry him, but as an ex-player himself, he can understand the passion involved. Sterling, to his credit, has apologised numerous times for acting the way he did, and it’s best for everyone if all parties move on.
It’s not surprising that, every now and then, Premier League feuds spill over into international squads. In some respects it’s reassuring to know how much they care, so let’s be done with it and not make mountains out of canteen-based molehills.
Image:Антон Зайцев via Wikimedia Commons