Southgate backs Sterling over tattoo controversy

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England National Team manager Gareth Southgate got out in front of the Raheem Sterling tattoo controversy, defending the England star midfielder and his character.

“He has a very strong character and he is focused on his football,” Southgate said at a press conference ahead of England’s friendly match on Saturday against Nigeria at Wembley Stadium.

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“I think the personal story of a lot of our players is quite remarkble and people will highlight the issues and faults of all of the squad but for so many of them its incredible they’ve got to the point they have and they are a great example to kids about what you can achieve in life if you’re dedicated and focused,” Southgate added. “Of course they have talent but there’s more needed and Raheem embodies that because nothing is given to you in life and you have to fight all the way.”

The controversy began when Sterling posted on Monday a photo of him in England training on his official Instagram account, where it was clear to see he had a tattoo of a rifle on his right leg. This sparked outrage and debate from anti-gun groups in England, with some even going so far as to call for Sterling to be dropped from the World Cup squad.

Sterling defended himself, stating that the reason he has that specific tattoo is to remind himself never to pick up a weapon, as his father was a victim of gun violence, and that he put it on his right leg because that’s his dominant foot in soccer.

But despite Sterling’s defense, the story has at times overshadowed discussion of the Three Lions and their potential outcome at the 2018 World Cup.

For example, Swiss bank and financial institution UBS ran 1,000 World Cup simulations and gave England the fourth-best odds to win the tournament.

Assuming he stays in the squad, big things are expected from Sterling in what can be his break-out World Cup. The 22-year-old scored 22 goals and had 12 assists in all competitions for Manchester City this season, and if he improves his finishing in this month’s tournament, he has the potential to win the Golden Boot, if England advance far in the tournament.