Pep Guardiola has made a personal intervention to help Raheem Sterling out of the slump that has cost him his place in the England team and left Roy Hodgson feeling reluctant to pick the one attacking player in his Euro 2016 squad who can offer genuine width.
Guardiola decided to contact Sterling after hearing that one of the players he will be inheriting at Manchester City next season might be suffering because of the sustained abuse he has attracted since his acrimonious departure from Liverpool last July.
What is not commonly known about Sterling’s transfer to City is that Guardiola in effect sanctioned the deal even though he was working at the time as Bayern Munich manager. Guardiola had already been lined up to replace Manuel Pellegrini and City’s owners are understood to have consulted him before making Sterling the most expensive English player in history.
Guardiola, who had also considered recruiting Sterling for Bayern, made his admiration clear during a lengthy telephone conversation with the player before England’s goalless draw against Slovakia, when the 21-year-old was left out of the side on the back of two erratic performances in the opening Group B fixtures against Russia and Wales.
Guardiola explained it was important to block out negative thinking and encouraged Sterling to remember the qualities that had made him one of the outstanding young players in English football. He also made it clear he was looking forward to working with Sterling in Manchester next season. “As long as you work for me, I’ll fight for you,” Guardiola told his player. “Keep your head up, don’t worry, I know you’re a good player and you are a big part of my plans.”
Sterling is not expected to return to the side for England’s game against Iceland in Nice on Monday, with Hodgson’s initial thoughts centred around a front three that would have Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana either side of the recalled Harry Kane, with Jamie Vardy also likely to miss out. Lallana limped out of England’s latest training session after twisting his ankle but an ice pack reduced the swelling and the problem is not serious.
That leaves Sterling facing another game out of the team but he is said to have been lifted by Guardiola’s intervention and the timing could yet have benefits for Hodgson if it helps the player to rediscover the form that persuaded City to pay an initial £44m, potentially rising to £49m with add-ons.
While Hodgson has insisted Sterling has been “bright as a button in training”, there have been concerns among England’s management about the player’s deterioration in form and whether his sell-belief might have been damaged by the criticism he tends to attract.
After England’s opening game against Russia, Sterling posted a picture on Instagram of Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome with the message “#TheHatedOne”. He is known to pay more attention to social media than some people in the England camp believe is healthy, particularly bearing in mind the abuse he often receives on Twitter, and he is one of the players at England’s base in Chantilly who has been having sessions with the squad’s sports psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters, having worked with him previously at Liverpool.
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