We should celebrate Raheem, not turn him into the fall guy
INSTEAD of vilifying Raheem Sterling for tripping himself up, we should be celebrating him as arguably the best wide player in Europe.
Let’s get one thing clear: It was NOT Sterling’s fault that Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai awarded Manchester City a penalty when the England forward fell over in the box without being touched against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek.
It is the job of referees and their assistants, not the players, to apply the laws of the game.
The day one of those assistants behind the goal, who make better hat-stands than meaningful contributions to the game, intervenes to help get a big decision right, I’ll probably be a pensioner.
And if you’re going to crucify Sterling for what happened on Wednesday night, you might as well ask every defender who’s got away with a foul in the box why they didn’t tell the referee to award a penalty.
Can you imagine a centreback running up to the ref and saying “I clipped the striker there – you’d better give him a penalty or send me off”? Of course not.
So why are people so keen to hammer Sterling? It’s the referee who made a massive mistake.
I was surprised that 56 per cent of those polled on my BBC Radio 5 Live Premier League breakfast show said he should have petitioned Kassai to change his mind. That was never going to happen.
City, already 1-0 up, went on to beat Shakhtar 6-0 so it’s highly unlikely that the controversy had any bearing on the result.
For people to criticise Sterling is ridiculous. He didn’t appeal for a penalty, he wasn’t trying to cheat anybody.
And what are City supposed to do once it has been given – roll the ball gently to the keeper like a backpass? Miss the target deliberately?
Anyone who has played the game at any level, from Sunday league upwards, is not going to do that – not unless he wants to be answerable to his teammates in the changing room.
Yes, Robbie Fowler tried to persuade referee Gerald Ashby that it wasn’t a penalty when he went down, under Arsenal keeper David Seaman’s challenge, at Highbury in March 1997.
But guess what? Ashby didn’t change his mind, Liverpool went 2-0 up after Seaman saved the spotkick and Jason Mcateer scored from the rebound, and they won 2-1.
City look even more unstoppable than they were last season – and Sterling has been a major part of that.
If he is not the best wide player in Europe on current form, he is in the top one – as Brian Clough used to say.
And he is not just dynamic with the ball at his feet. Out of possession he works incredibly hard to win the ball back.
Sterling is going to be a key player in this weekend’s derby with Manchester United, where I suspect the champions will be unstoppable after scoring 12 in their last two games.
City won’t have forgotten United’s comeback from 2-0 down at the Etihad in April, a game which could have seen Pep Guardiola’s side clinch the title.
But here’s one confident prediction.
Even if it’s tight in the derby, if either side is awarded a penalty in error, neither team is going to demand that it’s retracted.
Sorry, but that’s not how it works in football.