The Manchester City forward and Liverpool defender clashed when they reported for international duty a day after facing each other in the English Premier League.
Having squared up during that game, Sterling packed some unfinished business along with the rest of his luggage to meet up with the England squad. Whatever transpired between them left Gomez with a scratch on his face and Sterling with a blemish on his record.
England manager Gareth Southgate, who has made it a priority to cultivate a family atmosphere among his squad, decided to drop Sterling for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro.
A 7-0 victory confirmed that Sterling’s absence was never likely to jeopardise England’s chances, either in the game itself or of qualification.
It was a slightly surprising incident, given the praise that the City star has rightly garnered in recent months for his growing maturity on and off the pitch. He has become arguably the key man for both City and England.
Sterling was apparently unhappy at being dropped, believing that the apology he made to Gomez in front of the rest of the squad should have been sufficient to draw a line under the matter.
Southgate thought otherwise, however, and reached his decision after consulting some senior members of the squad.
That consultation seemed uncalled for; it is the manager’s duty and responsibility to decide on such matters and seeking the views of players puts them in a slightly awkward situation.
A quick chat with his coaching staff should have sufficed by way of any necessary advice.
The most important thing when facing a situation of this sort is for a manager to establish their authority unequivocally. I’m sure that was the major consideration in Southgate’s mind as he deliberated what to do.
Another would have been that Sterling appears to have sparked the incident without any provocation from Gomez. Sterling was carrying a grudge, one that had less than 24 hours to cool down and be put aside.
Clearly it was a hot headed and frankly silly thing to do but the spikes in emotion and adrenaline that football produces (in supporters as well as players) do not always subside quickly. We fans are all familiar with how long the emotions of a game can influence our mood in the aftermath.
Did I mention that I’m still not over the penalty incident from last year’s World Cup final?
It’s obvious that Sterling will learn from this experience and he’s already showing a composed approach again in handling things after Gomez was inexplicably booed during the Montenegro game by some so-called England fans.
Sterling responded on social media by saying: “Joe hasn’t done anything wrong and for me to see someone who keeps his head down and work hard especially after a difficult week for him to be booed when he came on tonight was wrong. I’ve taken full responsibility and accepted the consequence.”
Such a response will have been very pleasing to Southgate. He’ll be looking forward to next summer’s Finals reassured that Sterling is ready for the responsibility of playing a leading role.
England squads of the past have famously been undermined by club cliques developing that hamper harmony in the squad. The manager is very conscious of preventing such situations developing, and with discipline and unity restored, England strolled past Montenegro.
But the tests of next summer will be far harder. They’ll need a harmonious squad but more importantly, they’ll need Sterling.
Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star
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