Raheem Sterling has been widely mocked and ridiculed throughout his career. These days, he’s broken new ground by silencing critics through inspired performances and his vocal fight for equality.
“I am not normally the person to talk a lot but when I think I need my point to be heard I will speak up.”
Raheem Sterling never set out to be a voice for equality. Growing up in the shadows of Wembley’s famous arch, the winger always dreamed of one day pulling on the Three Lions shirt and gracing his national stadium’s turf.
Having moved north of his London home to Liverpool aged 16, Sterling quickly came to realise that the acceptance of multiculturalism he’d experienced in England’s capital didn’t always translate across the country.
After progressing into Liverpool’s first team, he started to turn heads. His outstanding displays culminated in a move to Manchester City for what was then a world record fee for a British player: £49 million.
By this time, Sterling had also established himself as an England regular, representing his country at both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships. The latter proved to be a particular low point for England – they were eliminated from the tournament by Iceland and slaughtered in the press. Unsurprisingly, Sterling bore the brunt of it.
He refused to let his critics define him, though, and continued to make strides both on and off the field. Following an attack in a Manchester car park – where Sterling was assaulted the morning of a game – he responded emphatically by scoring twice in City’s 4-1 rout of Spurs.
Not only does this give you an insight into Sterling’s immense resilience, but also his professionalism in the face of adversity.
He’s taken his game to a whole new level since joining City, becoming an indispensable part of Guardiola’s all-conquering side. Last season saw Sterling notch 25 goals across all competitions, once again silencing critics and putting to bed debates over his finishing ability.
Sterling has come on leaps and bounds for England, too. He was widely ridiculed for his performances at the 2018 World Cup, despite the team’s overall success – Southgate’s public praise of the player seemingly falling on deaf ears.
Raheem’s response? Bagging a brace against Spain in Seville. His play that night left fans and pundits alike debating as to whether he is now England’s most valuable player. Jamie Carragher even claimed Sterling could be in line for a future Ballon d’Or.
More than simply inspiring young players through his performances, Sterling has also begun to take things one step further. Ahead of the 2019 FA Cup semi-final, he organised for 550 pupils from his old school to attend the game at Wembley.
“I grew up right next door to the stadium and would dream of one day playing in a cup final or even representing my country there,” Sterling explained to The Telegraph. “To now be able to play there myself is an honour and this is a great opportunity to give back to the community that helped me get to where I am.”
Discrimination has been an everpresent threat to football’s integrity over the years, but thanks to players like Raheem, and EA SPORTS’ stance against discrimination in football through supporting initiatives that promote inclusivity such as the release of a special 'No Room for Racism' kit in FIFA20 Ultimate Team, the fight against prejudice is only growing stronger.
It’s taken a considerable amount of time, and an even greater amount of courage, but slowly, Sterling is beginning to turn the tide of his own public image. Not only that, he’s now forcing the media to rethink how built-up preconceptions affect their portrayal of athletes from ethnic minorities.
Raheem Sterling never set out to be a voice for equality. He was just a boy from London, dreaming of playing for England and helping his mother. Today he represents England’s greatest hope, in more ways than one.