Some will tell you that Raheem Sterling turning up late for World Cup training last week and subsequently apologising for that tardiness is not a news story. They are wrong. It is a news story; itâs just not a very big news story.
Would the same headlines have been written â not just in The Sun and the Daily Mail but beyond â if John Stones had turned up late for World Cup duty ten days ago and subsequently apologised?
Would they balls.
It would have been a paragraph at the bottom of another report or a snippet in Charles Saleâs appropriately named Sports Agenda column. It would have been barely debated and rarely mentioned again.
Does that mean that The Guardian et al have now joined the ranks of those keen to persecute Raheem Sterling? Of course not. But what it does mean is that The Sun have triumphed in making Sterling the designated England scapegoat, with their stories on Tuesday and WednesdayÂ creating a backdrop that prompts and justifies the over-the-top headlines that greeted this news. Itâs now something that has emerged âin the week that..â when the truth is that âthe week thatâ only happened because The Sun decided to attack and then double-down on Sterling.
It also says a great deal about the pack mentality of football journalists. Anybody who thinks that their chosen newspaperâs correspondent works independently should know that press conferences and interviews are followed by sometimes-interminable discussions about the âlineâ that will be taken. From the tabloids to the broadsheets and back again, this is a private membersâ club that decides the narrative together.
Obviously we expected no better from The SunâŠ
â Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 1, 2018
The third paragraph in Charlie Wyettâs story reads:
âThe England managerâs admission, after the player was given an extended holiday, comes in the same week asÂ Sterling posted a picture of himself with a gun tattoo on social media.â
That is technically true, but this incident didnât happen in the same week as SterlingÂ posted a picture of himself with a gun tattoo on social media. And it certainly did not happen in the same week as Sterling was first seen adorned with said gun tattoo.
What has happened âin the same weekâ is that The Sun have made a massive fuss about this gun tattoo and The Sun have forced Gareth Southgate into an admission that Sterling was late for training. The timing is all the tabloidâs.
Interestingly, The Sunâs online version of the same story claims that âGareth Southgate confirms our exclusive that Man City star reported for duty last Wednesday when he should have been at St. Georgeâs Park 24 hours earlierâ. Which is odd because he was 12 hours late. The clue is in Southgate saying: âHe was given off until the Tuesday night and he arrived on the Wednesday morning, so he was late.â
Neil Ashton gives his opinion on the inside pages and claims that âRaheem Sterling has just added this to a list of colourful and sometimes controversial capers during his England careerâ.
Like what? To which one of these âcolourful and controversial capersâ is Ashton referring? I mean, most of it looks like confected nonsense to Mediawatch but thatâs just us; we are but snowflakes.
[Thread] a selection of times when our national press have chosen to run stories on Raheem Sterling.
1. The one where Raheem was ‘tired’. pic.twitter.com/6K3cHu6r7T
â Adam Keyworth (@adamkeyworth) May 28, 2018
Ashton does not actually mention any of these âcapersâ and itâs odd because Gareth Southgate spoke extremely eloquently on Friday about Sterlingâs character, work ethic and his status as a role model. He didnât seem to think that Sterling had in any way misbehaved on England duty before this out-of-character late arrival.
But that does not stop Ashton:
âIf Southgate had the options, say, of Germany, then there is a chance Sterlingâs international career under him could be over.â
For mixing up his connections, calling to apologise profusely for being late and then voluntarily apologising to the whole group for being 12 hours late? His international career could be over for that? When Ashton says Germany, does he mean Nazi Germany?
âThe danger here is that a pattern is forming, with players trampling all over Mr Nice Guy in charge of the national team.â
Is it? What else has happened? Have we missed a whole raft of stories about England footballers behaving badly? Has Southgate turned a blind eye to all of it because heâs a big soft bugger?
âSouthgate is a good man, fairly mild-mannered and has a pretty relaxed air about him. The problem is that players have taken advantage of it, pushing the boundaries.
âSouthgate deserves better than that. He turfed Wayne Rooney and Phil Jagielka out of his squad, never to be seen again, after the pairâs infamous appearance at a wedding at The Grove hotel in Watford in November 2016.â
So youâre saying he did act when footballers behaved badly? Mediawatch is confused. How can you be simultaneously both soft and draconian?
And how can you simultaneously âstruggleâ, âlosing the power and confidence in his voice when the subject of Sterlingâs tardiness was put to himâ (Ashton, The Sun) while also âdealingÂ well with the difficult questions over Sterlingâ (John Cross, Daily Mirror)? The answer is that it depends on your particular narrative.
Talking of narrativeâŠ
Earlier this week I defended Sterling over the tattoo. But today the England manager said heâd had to apologise for reporting late for WC duty. Itâs unfortunate that itâs the same player but he has screwed up. And itâs certainly news.
â Matt Lawton (@Matt_Lawton_DM) June 1, 2018
The Daily Mailâs Matt Lawton was then pressed on whether Sterling âhad to apologiseâ or chose to apologise, and he entirely missed the point of that clarification. It is massively important which words are used; it is massively important to clarify that Sterling was not forced to apologise but made that decision himself.
It is also incredibly misleading to say it is âunfortunateâ that it is the same player, as though this same coverage would be replicated were it another footballer. It absolutely would not.
And yes, it is news. But when that news is massively downplayed by his own manager, there is your clue that it is not big news. Southgate is not protecting Sterling because he does not have the options of Germany; he is protecting Sterling because he has made an out-of-character mistake for which he has profusely apologised.
But what would we know? We are merely indulging in âan orgy of virtue-signallingâ.
âHow do you solve a problem like Raheem?â asks the Daily Telegraphâs Oliver Brown. âSouthgate seemed at a loss for answers on Friday.â
Apart from where he said all these things and suggested that the problem had indeed been dealt with and everybody had moved on? Apart from that, he was indeed at a loss.
Yes, this was a news story. But you know what it shouldnât have been? A wonderful opportunity to vilify a man without being called a racist, thatâs what. Many have not even attempted to hide their glee.
How do you solve a problem like some sections of the English press? Mediawatch is at a loss for answers on Saturday.