As the British media digest Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the calm, rational fashion that is the hallmark of its Mario Balotelli coverage, the desperation to kickstart the preordained “Mario is mental” has taken teammate Raheem Sterling’s arrival as an established England star off the back pages.
It wasn’t Sterling’s first England appearance that saw him truly arrive on the international scene; it was his first appearance in the tabloids for his role in a partying scandal.
Let’s allow respected moral arbiter the Daily Mail to explain:
“Raheem Sterling was partying at a London nightclub until 3am just a day after he complained about being ‘too tired’ to play for England, it was revealed today.
“The Liverpool winger did not start the Euro 2016 qualifier in Estonia because of fatigue but 24 hours later went to Cirque le Soir with national team mates Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“One partygoer said she saw him ‘up on his chair dancing’ at the West End club with dwarves, snakes, bearded ladies and fire eaters to entertain customers.”
Wait. Dwarves, snakes, bearded ladies and fire eaters? In the same room? Who couldn’t get behind that? In a caption, the story adds that the entertainment also includes “obese people in nappies [diapers].” That sounds a lot more interesting than a Euro 2016 qualifier in Estonia.
The 19-year-old didn’t appear to be stifling any yawns against Real Madrid, nor did he run over to the touchline and ask the trainer for a double espresso. Indeed, his manager, Brendan Rodgers, defended Sterling to reporters after the game.
“It’s obviously a story for some but, if you read it carefully, there’s not a story in it: 100 percent it was a night out he was entitled to have. He was terrific tonight [against Madrid], and he goes about his work really well. With his rise he’ll learn that maybe people want to knock you, but he’s focused on his work.”
The key word in the story would seem to be “after,” in that he partied after the match, not before. So he was tired, then he had a good night’s sleep, then he felt better, then he went out with friends to see some bearded ladies, dwarves and snakes – as one does when in London. After taking tea and scones, obviously.
As well as overloooking the extremely inconvenient fact of the timing of events, the criticism conflates two different things: running around a soccer field, and sitting in a lounge listening to music, watching obese guys in diapers, and repelling/encouraging the advances of wannabe WAGS. One is a stressful job, one is fun (for Sterling, at least – until he hits his thirties and suddenly wants to hold dinner parties and talk about property prices and babies, and everyone’s home and tucked up in bed by midnight. THIS IS FUN. THIS IS FUN).
Fun is less tiring than a job. Our bodies are built for fun. It’s like going out for a meal. After the 32 ounce rib eye, am I full, the contents of my stomach packed more tightly than a Tokyo subway car? Of course. But do I have room for dessert? Inevitably.
England won the game 1-0. Imagine how much clearer the “you’ve let your country down” subtext would have been if Roy Hodgson’s side hadn’t taken three points in Tallinn.
It’s also yet another entry in the rule book in the chapter entitled: Soccer is for Young People but They Must Not Behave like Young People. Players should be like wind-up toys, only active on our command, when we want to be entertained by them. Outside matchdays and training they must be immobile.
Anyway, as I say, this all means Stirling’s arrived as part of the England establishment. Paul Gascoigne, Teddy Sheringham, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole … He’s among some elite company in the Hall of Shame.