England and Manchester City star Raheem Sterling is one of the world’s most talented footballers, but he’s known almost as well in his role off the pitch as a campaigner against racism and inequality,
He has consistently fought racism in football, and recently launched his own charitable foundation at his old school, to help disadvantaged young people, and proving the value of speaking up, with conviction…
RSNG People know you as a famous and very talented footballer, but even for those who don’t follow the game, you are someone intrinsically linked to the various battles around diversity, equality and racism. How does that feel?
RAHEEM STERLING, ENGLAND’S HERO “First and foremost, I am a footballer. That’s what I do, that’s what I get paid to do and that’s where I want to be noticed. It’s a shame that we have to speak out about racism because footballers shouldn’t need to be having those conversations.”
“But when we see that something is fundamentally wrong in the world, then we must expect those conversations to come about.”
“I’ve never gone out of my way to be noticed off the pitch, that’s not my style. And more and more now – perhaps because fans are back in the stadiums and football really feels like football again – I want to get back to playing the game, not spending so much time talking about all the other stuff.”
RSNG And yet you have had such a positive impact on conversations.
RS “Sure, and that’s nice. And thankfully there has been a lot of good feedback from the majority of people, with a lot on board in the fight against many different things, not just racism.”
RSNG People have made comparisons between you and Lewis Hamilton for the way you have stood up in conversations?
RS “I don’t think it’s just Lewis and I, though we both have the same concerns and we both want to promote diversity. This is a country that does speak and does listen, and people speak up because they genuinely want to – nothing is engineered for awards or recognition.”
“I think first and foremost we should all be proud to live in a country that promotes free speech – there are many places in the world where that basic human right is taken away from people.”
I was doing it was to give people more awareness, and not to go along with the character judgements that the media were lazily making over footballers like myself
RSNG I think you may be one of the only people to have received better treatment after launching an attack on the press!
RS ‘Haha! Well, I wouldn’t use the word “attack,” to be honest. My intention wasn’t to be like someone who I thought was doing the same, because that wouldn’t have been wise.’
“The reason I was doing it was to give people more awareness, and not to go along with the character judgements that the media were lazily making over footballers like myself.”
“People need to know not to just idly follow the thoughts and actions of others; they need to have an open mind and draw their own conclusions from the things that they see. That becomes more difficult because of newspapers and social media, and the way the world works nowadays; but I would always encourage people to express their own views in any situation.”
RSNG You’ve been at Manchester City since 2015, but before that spent three years at Liverpool. What did it feel like to be playing for such a big club at such an early stage in your career?
RS “Well, being part of a team packed with quality and true internationals – like Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez – was amazing. Because before that, I had only been watching those players on television.”
“The next minute, you’re playing at Anfield with them, passing to them, getting the ball from them, learning every second and coming through and hoping to get a start whenever possible.”
“At the time, I was also in the England Under-21 setup and that was vital in helping me progress. A lot of footballers will tell you the early days are such a big part of getting to a level – they instill all the good habits and ideas, and the years after that are about fine-tuning those or expanding on the basics.”
“So as a 17- or 18-year-old playing with those players, it really set me up to feel comfortable with those situations.”
RSNG You made it to the England senior team very early on as well, and were named in the squad for the 2014 World Cup later that year?
RS “Yeah, that was a dream come true and I could not have asked for a much better start at such a young age. I was only 18 years old and I was playing with some of the best players in the world.”
“And yet lots of players get breaks at that age – so it was really up to me to build on that early opportunity and make the most of it. And the truth is I’ve had phases of my career where I’ve felt like I wasn’t progressing and wasn’t moving forward. It’s always a worry for footballer when you feel as though you are standing still.”
“I would say a big part of that change was when Pep [Guardiola] came into Manchester City. He gave me a new view on my game and the sport as a whole, and I owe him a lot because he has helped me reinvent myself.”
RSNG Both for club and country?
RS “Yes. Obviously there is unfinished business there – getting to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final is all good, but you want to make it past those stages and lift trophies. I think we can and will do – there are too many good players there for us to let that chance go.”
RSNG If you weren’t successful as a footballer, what do you think you would be doing with your life?
RS “I think I may have gone into athletics because I’ve always had the speed and you don’t have the need to keep a ball under control when you’re just sprinting, haha!”
“Sport of any kind has always been in my blood and I love to keep active. But being fast is one of my biggest strengths, so yes, probably athletics.”
I want to be busy – I don’t want to be sitting around when I hang my boots up
RSNG What inspires you outside of sport?
RS “I have properties and I do really like business outside of the game. Some sportsmen want to build on their talent and creativity outside the game; others feel they have battled and done enough and want to take it easy.”
“I’m definitely in the first category and it’s good to have something to take your mind off the game, even when you’re still playing it. I don’t want it to be the only thing I think about.”
RSNG Who of the many players you’ve been around would you say is best placed for an alternative career in a different industry, such as the business world?
RS “When Vincent Kompany was at the club, he wasn’t only my captain, but he was someone who I really respected and idolized.”
“It was something we talked about and I have thought about – being successful in something else after retirement. He is someone who has an analytical brain and was always going to be a person who wants new challenges no matter where he is in life.”
“In a similar way, I want to be busy – I don’t want to be sitting around when I hang my boots up.”