Raheem Sterling is in the unique position of being able to empathise with Gareth Southgate after the England manager was jeered by his own fans, recalling a time he “dreaded” international duty having suffered similar treatment.
Southgate has come under increasing pressure after defeat to Italy on Friday not only confirmed Nations League relegation but extended England’s competitive winless streak to five competitive games; not in their history have they gone six matches without a victory.
Supporters turned on Southgate, who took England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final last summer, as they slumped to a 4-0 mauling to Hungary at Molineux in June.
The away fans then jeered Southgate on Friday night as he crossed the San Siro pitch to applaud them following the 1-0 defeat which sealed their relegation from League A, with Monday’s clash with Germany being England’s last game before the World Cup.
Sterling, the most-capped player among Southgate’s current 28-man squad, was also a target for the boo-boys during Euro 2016.
Asked about his own experiences, the Chelsea forward replied: “I remember coming with the national team there was a period that when I first came into the squad it was really enjoyable and there was a period where I actually dreaded coming.
“I think it was Spain away (in 2018), it was a moment when I scored. My mentality was okay, no matter good or bad, I needed to just focus on myself and not listen to what the outside world was saying.
“That’s definitely been something that’s put me in good stead. Not just here with the national team. But away from here in football as well. No matter doing good or bad, it’s to keep level-headed and focused and not listen to the noise.
“That’s a message that can definitely go with the squad here in the next couple of months. We know there will be noise and we really need to block it out if we are going to do well in this tournament.
“I don’t think any of the boys are panicking. We are taking responsibility, knowing results haven’t been right and that we need to fix that. I think we are very clear on that and I think tomorrow is a chance to put that right.”
Sterling has been a player Southgate has relied on throughout his tenure as England boss and, similarly, the manager has managed to get the best out of a player whose international career had largely stalled before his appointment.
Now 27, Sterling believes it is time for the players to step up and take the “unfair” pressure off the shoulders of a man who has taken them closer than anyone to a first major trophy since 1966.
Asked what he made of the criticism of Southgate, he replied: “A lot of it has been unfair but that’s the level we are at with England.
“After the summer we came away and had a look at ourselves and none of us were proud, it is not for Gareth to shoulder the blame.
“The manager can play whatever he wants to play but when we go on to the pitch we have to have that mentality that we are not just on the pitch to be on the pitch but we have to have that winning mentality.
“That’s the message over the last couple of days when the boys have been speaking; it’s get more out of each other, push each other, take criticism.
“If someone is not doing something right then we have to push each other to try and get the best for the team.
“I don’t think it’s about fighting or doing anything silly like that. On the field, if there is something not right and somebody is not doing what they should be doing, I think that’s the level we are at.”