Sue Smith - ‘Raheem Sterling a credit, and Joe Gomez deserves support, not booing’

I WAS really impressed with the way England handled the training-ground incident between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez this week.

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE: England's Joe Gomez (left) and Raheem Sterling during training at St George's Park. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Sterling is England’s most in-form player but I like the way Gareth Southgate set a precedent by dropping Sterling for Thursday’s 7-0 win at home to Montenegro after he confronted Gomez over the bad blood that had built between them in Sunday’s Liverpool v Manchester City game.

People ask if Southgate would have done it had it been a World Cup semi-final next, but deep in a tournament, when the squad has been together as a group for weeks, I do not think it would have happened.

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Players respect managers who deal with things like this rather than thopse who sweep it under the carpet.

England’s togetherness was a really massive part of the run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, but these things happen when you’ve got competitive sports people together.

It did not help that they met up straight on the back of such an important club game.

I remember one game I played against some of my former England team-mates which I ended with two broken ribs and a black eye, but, fortunately, it was another month before we met up with the national team. By then, the wounds had healed in every sense. Had it been the next day, I would have said something.

Often men’s footballers front it out more; female players are more likely to talk about it with other people, fostering resentment.

YP columnist, Sue Smith

Usually, though, once you’ve had a bust-up, everything is fine the next day.

A lot of people thought it should have been kept behind closed doors but it would have come out. It would be really hard to keep something like that quiet.

What I didn’t like was the reaction of a noisy minority at Wembley on Thursday, who booed Gomez’s introduction even as Sterling applauded him on from the stands.

Those fans will argue they are entitled to express their opinions, but if you go to support a team you should support all the players.

BIG WEEK: England manager Gareth Southgate. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Gomez is a strong character who is going to be a mainstay of the national team for years, but this sort of thing will affect him.

That said, I liked the way Sterling tweeted his condemnation of the booing minutes after the match. I cannot imagine anyone advised him to do that so quickly.

Sterling has become a real leader on and off the field since the last World Cup. I am certainly not condoning what he did at St George’s Park, but the way he has spoken about racism has been very impressive, and so was the way he handled the booing.

Now Southgate must decide what to do between now and England’s opening game of Euro 2020, at Wembley on June 14.

Although it allows more opportunities for some players, I think he needs to start building relationships, particularly defensively. Even in the 7-0 win, Jordan Pickford had to make a couple of saves.

If Harry Maguire and John Stones are going to be the first-choice centre-back pairing, they need to play together.

I massively rate Trent Alexander-Arnold. I watched him at Aston Villa recently and was impressed by how much he is improving defensively. England are very lucky to have three very good right-backs, which is why Kyle Walker has not made the last few squads.

Kieran Trippier looked shattered last season and I felt he needed a fresh challenge, but I saw him for Atletico Madrid recently and he was excellent.

Thursday’s was the youngest England team since 1959, but there are plenty within the group who have played in a World Cup semi-final and the Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham players know what it’s like to compete for silverware and play in Champions League finals.

With our brilliant attack and our vulnerabilities in defence, England will certainly be exciting to watch next summer!