One of England’s most talented footballers has shrugged off a pre-World Cup controversy after being criticised for a tattoo of an assault rifle on his leg.
Raheem Sterling was criticised by anti-gun campaigners for apparently glorifying violent crime with the artwork that was clearly visible when the Manchester City player posted a photograph on Instagram during the team’s final preparations.
The design and the criticisms of Sterling featured on the front page of the best-selling tabloid The Sun, prompting a backlash from supporters of the 23-year-old who said that he was being unfairly picked on.
Sterling said that the design had deeper meaning and referred to his late father who was shot dead when he was aged two. He said that he had promised never to touch a gun during his life.
He also said that the as yet unfinished tattoo had been inked last year and questioned the timing of the story in the run-up to the World Cup.
Gary Lineker, the former England striker and sports broadcaster, wrote in a Tweet: “Unique to this country to attempt to destroy our players morale before a major tournament. It’s weird, unpatriotic and sad.”
Sterling, who has previously been the subject of front page tabloid reports about his lifestyle, continues to divide opinion among fans despite being popular among teammates for club and country, according to reports.
He said that the episode had not affected his preparations. “It’s not really been that tough,” he told reporters on Monday. “Things happened and get spoken about but I put that to one side.
“It was a normal week to be honest. The only thing that changed was I was in the newspapers a bit more.”