A Sterling example to other youngsters

Matt Worth 21 October 2014

Many fans thought Raheem Sterling’s request to sit out England’s clash with Estonia, on the grounds that he was tired, rather lame. Maybe because it invokes memories of whining to the school rugby coach to sit out the odd drill, and of the dusty response such pleas used to receive. Alan Shearer captured this reaction nicely when he said that the hard-working fan, up at dawn and home after dark, would struggle for sympathy with a professional athlete crying off a chance to play for his country in this manner.

However, this is professional football, and Shearer is the voice of 1990s, beery, macho English football, booming across the temporal void as if Arsene Wenger never happened. The great no. 9’s bludgeoning approach to the game may have served him well in times past, but it would be more thoughtful to see Sterling’s decision as a rare and refreshing example of sensible career management by a young pro.

The fans do not own players, the fans are not experts in sports physiology or psychology, and there’s something pernicious about the fans – or voices claiming to speak for them – claiming to be. The days when hoary cliché could be substituted for serious analysis of conditioning are surely past. Sterling’s body and career are his, not ours, and experts have united in agreeing that burnout is a real phenomenon. Many fans will have suffered stress and fatigue in their own working lives; even a moment spent considering the impact, on a nineteen-year-old body, of 1,600 minutes of elite level football in four months should therefore put Sterling’s decision in a different light.

Those who would purport to be the game’s moral voice often expend hot air calling for young players to exercise more responsibility. Time, then, to applaud a young man taking responsibility first and foremost for himself and his future.