Raheem Sterling's ascension to the elite in the face of vitriol is a credit to his character 5 months ago

Raheem Sterling's ascension to the elite in the face of vitriol is a credit to his character

Raheem Sterling has long faced criticism for the crime of being a young, successful black man. He is now one of the best players in the Premier League

When one thinks of Raheem Sterling, it's very hard to separate the Manchester City player from the tabloid headlines which have followed him for almost the entirety of his senior career.

Through no fault of his own, Sterling has found himself the intermittent whipping boy of the right-wing media since leaving Liverpool for the greener pastures of Manchester City in July 2015.

Many players have made similar moves over the years, and just as many have received subsequent and prolonged abuse from the fans of their former clubs, hurt at the sight of someone they once cheered succeeding at their expense.

But what sets Sterling apart is not the abuse he has received from fans, but the sustained and seemingly timed attacks he has received from sections of the British media.

It happens every few months, without fail. Generally it focuses on something laughable, such as his sartorial choices or his choice of lunchtime snack. It can be laughed off, despite the obvious sinister tinge to it all.

But all too often it has been personal and equally, a symptom of modern British, an attack on those deemed ungrateful.

We have seen it with others, James McClean most recently and many others among them, who are deemed to be insufficiently grateful for the opportunities presented to them by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sterling has shown his startling ungratefulness through, among other things, driving a Bentley, shopping at Poundland, flying in economy class, eating an ice cream or - shock fucking horror - buying the mother who raised him by herself a house.

People often consider footballers fair game but the level of anger at almost everything Sterling does has been noticeable in its lack of tact. So predictable are certain media outlets' attacks on him that they have now become memes, a joke device used to respond to every misplaced pass or dive performed by the forward.

Sterling Raheem Sterling of Manchester City scores his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and AFC Bournemouth at Etihad Stadium on December 1, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Sterling himself has addressed the obsession, most recently during an interview with The Players' Tribune.

"You know … it’s sad that I even have to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. There’s a perception in certain parts of the media that I love 'bling'. I love diamonds. I love to show off. I really don’t understand where that comes from. Especially when I bought my mum a house, it was unbelievable what some people were writing. I think it’s really sad that people do that. They hate what they don’t even know," he said in the post-World Cup piece.

"A few years ago, I would let it get to me. I’d be saying to my mum, 'Why are they picking on me?'

"But now, as long as my mum and my sister and my kids don’t have any stress, I’m good."

It is that, that last line which possibly illustrates one of the reasons behind Sterling's ability to ignore the attacks on him and concentrate on becoming the best player he can possibly be.

Sterling knows that no matter what he says or does he'll likely be attacked. Whether he buys a car, buys a bar of chocolate, buys a McDonalds or buys an expensive meal, he knows that an article will be written by some intern who, willingly or not, is contributed to a machine of hatred.

He has faced and continues to face a level of pressure that few players ever come close to experiencing, not for his football or his performances, but for daring to be a black man with personality who just wants to live his life and play the sport he loves.

Sterling has no reason to be deemed ungrateful - as many have suggested he is - because he has nothing to be grateful for.

He is just a man of immense natural talent who has, with the help of coaches, managers, friends and family, managed to harden himself in the face of personal attacks to become one of the best attacking players in England and Europe.

It seems to have somehow gone under the radar - presumably due to the public perception that he cannot shoot - that he is at the time of writing both the top scorer (eight) and top assist provider (six) in the Premier League this season. The proof of his excellence is there in both performances and cold, hard facts.

None of this will bring an end to what the media or the people who love to hate him says about him, it never, ever does. But if Sterling's career has shown us anything it's that, in the face of consistent vitriol, he does not simply cope, but thrives, and gets better all the time.

At the age of 23 and given the level he's currently playing at, that is a scary and remarkably impressive prospect.