Tabloid hounding of Raheem Sterling becoming more bizarre

England striker is once again the victim of the red tops after he got a tattoo on his leg

As a metaphor, it is hardly the most subtle. Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has had a tattoo of a M16 assault rifle inked on his right calf. "I shoot with my right foot, so it has a deeper meaning," he explained in a statement issued after the Sun splashed with the headline: "Raheem shoots himself in foot."

Anti-gun advocates have described the tattoo as “totally unacceptable” and “sickening”. The founder of Mothers Against Guns, Lucy Cope, said: “This tattoo is disgusting. Raheem should hang his head in shame.” With the World Cup barely a couple of weeks away, there have been calls for him to be dropped from the England squad unless he has the tattoo removed, covered, or his leg chopped off. So far, so familiar.

While it would be hard to argue that Sterling’s tattoo is the acme of role-modelling body art, the Sun’s “exclusive” is not really about the tattoo, and what it represents. It is more about a vicious tabloid snobbery.

The character assassinations are as endless as they are bizarre. He can’t win. He’s either too tight (buying clothes from Primark while earning £180,000 a week, eating pasties at Greggs while signing for City for almost £50m, taking an £80 easyJet trip while earning £200,000 a week) or too flash (his fleet of cars, the private jet he hired to take him on two holidays in a week).


He is the “love rat” who dared to propose to his long-term girlfriend Paige Milian, the snake who looked “TIRED” at a party at 3am (yes, tired!), the scoundrel who bought his mother a nice sink despite failing to win the World Cup, the reprobate who drove a “FILTHY £50K Mercedes”.

In April, this culminated in possibly the most shocking of Sterling exposés – after failing to win the young player of the year award (he finished third), he shamelessly went out for a spot of breakfast in his “£120,000 pimped-up Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon”. Worse, the wretch looked, according to the Daily Mail, “relaxed”.

There is, of course, a different story that could be written about Sterling – the England star who, aged 20, became the most expensive British player in history to sign for another domestic club; who already has 37 international caps; who has played a vital part in Manchester City becoming the first football team to win 100 points in a single Premier League season; and who has overcome the toughest start in life (his father was shot dead in Kingston, Jamaica, when he was two years old) to become a global superstar.

Which takes us back to the tattoo. In his statement, Sterling also said: “When I was two my father died from being gunned down to death. I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my lifetime.” Yes, he might regret his tattoo in years to come – and he certainly wouldn’t be the first 23-year-old to regret one. But, as an image, it does make sense; a reminder of all that he despises, of all that has been taken away from him. Or maybe he is saying that the killing of his father made him the man he is today; that he has triumphed over adversity, enabled one form of deadly shooting to become the inspiration for another.

And as he pointed out, the tattoo isn’t even finished yet. He might surround the rifle with flowers and a golden sun, as Banksy did in Boy With a Gun, or with the words NEVER AGAIN. Maybe it will prove to be a profound statement against violence – Sterling’s personal Guernica. If it is, the Sun will doubtless accuse him of theft under the headline: “Robbing Raheem plunders Picasso.” – Guardian service