We should cel­e­brate Raheem, not turn him into the fall guy

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - SPORT - ROB­BIE SAV­AGE @Rob­biesav­age8

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.

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