Man City bosses unhappy with Raheem Sterling after ‘ill-timed’ Real Madrid plea

More than three decades have passed since Paul Ince seared his name onto the 'most hated' list of West Ham supporters.

His crime was to be photographed wearing a Manchester United shirt long before he had left Upton Park for Old Trafford in a £1m deal.

That was back in 1989. Ince claimed innocence, insisting his agent took the picture before the deal was completed so he wouldn't have to return from a holiday to pose in a United shirt.

No-one believed him and there are still lots of Hammers fans who can barely bring themselves to utter his name. The mud thrown at Ince since that infamous day has stuck for a long, long time.

Last week Raheem Sterling did something similar. He posed with a Real Madrid shirt draped over one shoulder on the front cover of one of Spain's biggest selling sports newspapers.

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But what Sterling did wasn't an accident, like Ince had once claimed. Sterling's pose was stage-managed by his representatives and he even went a step further by adding some words to go with the images. How kind.

Sterling, 25, made it clear that joining Real Madrid remains one of his dreams, like he has stated in the past and he said: "It's one of those things, right now I'm at City and I'm really happy.

"But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club, when you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it's massive. I have a contract with City now, and I have to respect this. But it's a fantastic club."

His choice of the word 'respect' is interesting and ironic, considering it was used less than a week after his own club Manchester City had been thrown out of the Champions League by UEFA for breaching FFP rules – and less than a week before his side faced, you guessed it, Real Madrid in the last 16 of this season's competition.

The interview took place under the noses of Etihad bosses at the Lowry Hotel, without their permission or prior knowledge.

Pep Guardiola insists his players are 'free to say what they think'. But those same players also need to think about what they say.

It's safe to say City were less than impressed, with one senior figure describing the whole episode as 'crass' and 'ill-timed'.

Not for Sterling, though. For the England star the timing couldn't have been better considering City's next European challenge just happened to be in the Bernabeu on Wednesday night – a game he was desperate to play in but started it on the bench.

But unlike the reaction to what Ince did, Sterling's love-in with Real barely caused a ripple on social media, where there was no outpouring of vitriol, images of burning effigies or a sense of betrayal.

Quite the opposite in fact, with one City fan saying "He will go to Real Madrid one day and we wish him well. Can't expect players to always want to stay at City", while another one added, "I honestly always figured he would want to go there eventually. I'm fine with it. He's done so much we couldn't complain if he took an opportunity to play for them."

The remarkable reaction outlines Sterling's elevated status in English football, cementing his position as the modern day 'Goldenballs' of our favourite sport.

He remains a deserved footballing treasure due to his impact on the pitch and his brave fight against racism off it.

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But the reaction also questions how much City supporters – and neutral ones – actually care about the English champions, not least because when Sterling made it clear he was leaving Liverpool for Manchester in 2015 he became a pariah on Merseyside and still is.

Sterling, with a little help from an agent who can see the cash tills ringing, is being as subtle as a house brick crashing through a window because if you give Real encouragement, the La Liga giants will turn into a dog with a bone.

But he's also playing a clever game – one that will end with him winning and City losing.

  • Raheem Sterling
  • Manchester City FC
  • Champions League
  • La Liga
  • Pep Guardiola
  • Spain

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