Raheem Sterling insists scrutiny surrounding his gun tattoo has not negatively affected World Cup preparations, with the England forward instead taking heart from the love showed to him by the public.
Even for a player that has grown up in the spotlight, the past week must have felt intense for the 23-year-old.
Sterling’s unfinished leg tattoo of a gun brought criticism from sections of the media at the start of last week, leading the FA to express its full support of a player who explained it was in tribute to his father after he was gunned down in Jamaica when the forward was just two.
There was further scrutiny after Sterling took a tumble in Saturday’s friendly win against Nigeria — a match he was going to be dropped for having reported late for camp, only for manager Gareth Southgate to change his mind after the player came under attack for his tattoo.
“That was the least of my worries. It’s obviously bad to see yourself spoken of in that light, but it’s not something that gets me down.
“I’ve got a World Cup to prepare for and I’ve had training sessions every day, so my mind was already occupied. That was the least of my worries.”
Sterling has, though, been aware of the widespread public support — backing that has not always been there.
“I heard that there was a lot of positives,” Sterling, who referred to himself as ‘The Hated One’ at Euro 2016, said.
“I am grateful to see stuff like that and it just shows how far I am coming and how much the people are really taking to me as a person. Because they can probably see my true colours and my true personality, so it’s really good to see.”
Sterling was peppered with questions during a 45-minute open media session at St George’s Park, just days after England beat Nigeria 2-1 in their penultimate World Cup warm-up friendly.
The 23-year-old lined up in attack with Harry Kane at Wembley, where he wasted a couple of good chances to score to leave his international record at just two goals in 38 games.
“I thought we played well as a team,” Sterling said. “The first 45 minutes was some great football — probably some of the best we’ve played all year.
“If the team goes all the way and does really well and wins every game and I don’t score, I am telling you I’ll be more than excited.
“As long as we do progress and do well, as long as I can help, if I don’t score it’s not the biggest issue in the world as long as we do well.
“That’s my main focus. But the goals will come, and I am sure of that.”
Sterling may well get another chance to score when England line up against Costa Rica at Elland Road in Leeds tomorrow.
A brief break follows the final friendly before an internal game and the squad jetting off to Russia on June 12.
Asked if he was desperate to get out there and get started, Sterling said: “No, you take your time, prepare how we have and take every moment as it comes, every day as it comes.
“Prepare right and when that moment comes that you are ready.”
Meanwhile Jordan Henderson is ready to put Champions League heartache behind him and get “straight back to business” at the World Cup.
Henderson captained Liverpool in their dramatic 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid — a game that saw two major goalkeeping gaffes from Loris Karius and a first-half injury to star man Mohamed Salah.
Henderson and team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold were granted extra time off before linking up with England as a result of their involvement and, while the memories of his night in Kiev are still raw, the midfielder is focused on the task at hand.
Having sat out Saturday’s 2-1 Wembley win over Nigeria, Henderson will return to the Three Lions midfield against Costa Rica for the farewell friendly tomorrow.
“It’s been difficult over the last 10 days. It was hard to take,” he said.
“I’ve had a little bit of time off and time with the family, which was important.
“It was good to get my head around it and have some down-time to refocus on what is important and that is the World Cup now.
“That is where the focus has got to be. I think it is a good thing, I get straight back to business.
“What’s important is doing the best I can for the national team.”
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