Gary Neville tells heartbreaking anecdote about Raheem Sterling from 2016
Neville pulled no punches on the topic of racism tonight
Raheem Sterling has dominated every conversation around football for the past two days, which is good, because this conversations needed to be had.
On Saturday, Sterling was subjected to alleged racist abuse from Chelsea fans, four of whom have been suspended pending further investigation.
On Sunday, he posted a statement on Instagram, calling out the newspapers, citing two Daily Mail articles, for helping to fuel racism and aggressive behaviour among football fans.
Since then, Sterling has received overwhelming support from his peers, and thousands of football fans. The usual suspects are playing devil's advocate, but largely, a huge step forward has been taken in addressing the issue of why Sterling receives a disproportionate amount of abuse.
On Monday Night Football, Gary Neville shared a heartbreaking anecdote from his time as a coach with England regarding Sterling and the abuse he faced from his own 'fans'.
"He came to see me one on one in 2016, three or four days before the Iceland game," Neville said.
"Pre-tournament, he was getting absolutely battered [in the press], we were aware of that. It continued into the tournament, in the stadiums. Groans, boos, that sort of thing.
"He came into the analysis room and decided to unload on me. 'Why was this happening'?
"He accepted that he would get criticised as an England player, but that it was so vicious, he felt so targeted. He didn't know what to do about it.
"I saw what I felt was somebody who's got a great mentality and is tough, but also a level of vulnerability in terms of 'how does he cope with this'?
"Really, as a coach, reflecting on it yesterday, I didn't really know how to deal with it. I went into 'protective mode', coach mode. He's one of our most important players, how would you get him ready for the next match?
"'Raheem you're a great player, we love you to bits' - which to be fair we did - as a coaching staff, and, by trying to patch him up, you'd never be dealing with the underlying issue, and maybe you never would be able to in that sort of one on one session. But actually, reflecting now, maybe we were brushing it aside a little bit.
"Really, deep down, there was a tonal difference in the attacks that he was getting compared to others.
"Directly in that tournament, Harry Kane, who is rightly the blue eyed boy of English football, he was having a difficult time in that tournament, and it was portrayed that it was because he was on corners. Raheem was having a difficult time and it was because of other, more personal reasons.
"The language used towards him was different. He couldn't understand. He was asking me why this was happening. And then post-tournament, we got knocked out and it was bad from a footballing point of view, but the abuse he received, particularly in the media beyond that tournament, the language that was used against him. I've not seen it before.
"I've lived closely, with David Beckham, with Wayne Rooney, played in Euro 96 with Paul Gascoigne. But the nastiness that I think is there [against Sterling], and looking back at that time, trying to patch him up, was that the right reaction?
"But he was willing to stand up and continue playing. And he's gone on to play at a fantastic level. But he's been carrying this with him for years, this is not just Chelsea at the weekend, this has been going on for years with him. I've known about this for years, because he came to see me in 2016. So it's a really difficult situation."
Neville went on to say that not only are there racist undertones in the criticism of Sterling, but that it is "blatant".