England, Sterling and the ‘tiredgate’ affair

Posted on October 17, 2014

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October’s European qualifiers should have been a relatively painless affair for England with two fixtures against what the FIFA World Rankings say are vastly inferior teams.  A 5-0 victory over a San Marino side filled mostly with amateurs was never going to provide a genuine barometer to test the ability of this England side.  This was followed by a massively underwhelming 0-1 win over an Estonia side that spent most of the second half with 10-men.

Despite England’s overall domination of the match against Estonia, the lax finishing from the Three Lions left us all feeling a little despondent at the teams’ performance.  However, the quality of the football was one of the last things to be discussed after the match.  The omission of England’s new prodigal son, Raheem Sterling stole the headlines, caused a minor social media meltdown and reignited the player burn-out debate.

Roy Hodgson’s reasoning for omitting Sterling was the major cause of controversy.  The official line to the press was that Sterling had complained of fatigue on the eve of the game and had subsequently asked to “…sit this one out.”  This sparked hyperbole amongst the press and social media.

The criticism of both the player and the manager raged.  Should a 19-year-old youngster be tired as early in the season as October?  Could Hodgson and his staff have handled the situation better?  Is this proof that professional footballer’s value playing for their club over their country?

Sterling’s fatigue & media hyperbole

A professional football player of any age will suffer from fatigue.  This is a physiological fact.  Sterling had a particularly long and draining season with Liverpool last year which was promptly followed by a World Cup and now he is on centre stage at Liverpool in the absence of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.  Despite this, we expect him to be England’s main man and the pressure at international level seems even greater than at Liverpool.

People seem quick to forget that Sterling did in fact play the second half of the game against Estonia and made a decisive contribution by winning the free-kick from which Wayne Rooney scored and won the game.  Yet his commitment and patriotism are still being questioned?

There’s no doubt that Sterling is one of England’s best players but should he be receiving this level of criticism for missing 45 minutes of football against a nation currently ranked 81st in the world?

In my opinion, the overriding issue is not the fact that Sterling was tired, nor Hodgson’s public admission of the issue.  The problem is the hyperbolic nature of the response to the situation outside of the England camp.

Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail suggested that the England set-up was failing the player.  Ashton labelled Sterling’s claim of fatigue as a cry for help, one which the England staff failed to identify before the match against Estonia.  Whilst Ashton may have a point in this case; the England set-up is full of highly qualified professionals whose job it is to look after the players physically and mentally, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the signs to indicate the issue didn’t sufficiently manifest themselves.

Yet again, because it’s England and because it’s one of our younger and better players the press go into a frenzy trying to dissect the incident thus turning it into something that it’s not.  Social media was even more vitriolic as Twitter users lambasted Sterling claiming that a 19-year-old shouldn’t be tired at this stage in the season.

This kind of scathing criticism is typical of the England national team.  Almost every non-story is manipulated into something it’s not and the majority of the countries football supporting populace gets caught up in the hyperbole.

History continues to repeat itself in English football.  We have this innate ability to build up our young players, pile the pressure on their shoulders and then take a seemingly sadistic pleasure in chopping them down when they fail.

Take the example of Jack Wilshere, he was lauded as the ‘English Xavi’ during his breakthrough season at Arsenal in 2010/11.  He played almost 50 games that season and was held on a pedestal as a new hope for Arsenal but playing too many games in that time lead to chronic injury problems.

At the time, Arsene Wenger admitted that he pushed Wilshere too hard, causing injury which subsequently stunted his development as a footballer.  His performances since have drawn a lot of criticism, most prominently from former Manchester United and England midfielder, Paul Scholes who felt Wilshere had regressed as a footballer.  It’s only recently that Wilshere has looked remotely like the player we hoped he would be.

There is a risk that Sterling ends up in the same situation as Wilshere if pushed too hard to perform, or even Wayne Rooney, 28-years-old and seemingly past his best.   Do we really want the same thing to happen to Sterling?

Sterling in action for the Three Lions against Estonia

Sterling in action for the Three Lions against Estonia

The press had a field day going back and forth between Hodgson and Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers and once again, we return to the debate between club and country.  Different stories have been reported in different news outlets.  The Guardian reported that Hodgson criticized the two-day recovery regime under Rodgers at Liverpool whilst in an interview published by The Independent; Rodgers denied having showdown talks with Hodgson and heavily criticized the club vs. country feud, labelling the coverage in the press as “rubbish”.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Hodgson could have handled the situation differently.  Although, we can admire his honesty, it would’ve been much better for all parties involved had he kept the real reason for Sterling’s omission behind closed doors.  He could have used any number of excuses from squad rotation to injury and all would have caused less of a storm than the truth.

At the end of the day, it’s the manager’s job to protect his players and Hodgson failed to do so on this occasion.  However, the manager cannot be blamed for the reaction of the press and the public.  The press took the story and ran with it, social media exacerbated it and we ended up with the sorry affair that has been dubbed ‘tiredgate.’

By Jamie Allen

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Posted in: Football