The list of players to be sent off for England includes some pretty stellar names.
Raheem Sterling would have set off for his great adventure this summer hoping to make a somewhat different addition to his national team’s historical records, but then his world caved in.
From the Miami heat during Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Ecuador, there were Antonio Valencia’s reaction to an admittedly exuberant challenge, a red card for him and Sterling, and a long walk for Sterling to the dressing rooms with just his thoughts and Gerrard, the England captain, for company. But the crucial factor to emerge is that Sterling shouldn’t be too downhearted. He’s bounced back from disappointment before.
Let’s put the actual whys and wherefores of the red card to one side.
Yes, the card wouldn’t have been issued had Manchester United’s Valencia not reacted in the way he did, and the Ecuador captain’s club status ensured that tribal loyalties could come back to the fore for an evening at least, but Sterling should already be moving on.
The Liverpool winger will miss England’s friendly against Honduras back at the Sun Life Stadium on Saturday night—and with it the opportunity to stake his place for a start against Italy. Again, though, he needn’t be duly concerned. He’s come back from worse before.
It was only as recently as the beginning of December that Liverpool fans were wondering whether the teenager had a career at their club at all.
He’d started in an unfamiliar right wing-back berth in a match against Crystal Palace at Anfield in early October, and despite winning a penalty he looked shaky, often losing possession easily and appearing reluctant to receive the ball. He didn’t play again for two months, and when he did, in a 3-1 defeat to Hull City, he was one of the poorer aspects of what was probably Liverpool’s worst display of the season.
He had lost his way, was somewhat of a tearaway and was about as far away from getting in England’s World Cup squad as last night’s aggressor, Valencia.
After being thrown into the side as a raw 17-year-old in the opening few weeks of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, Sterling barely featured in the latter half of the 2012/13 season. His Reds career hung by a thread, and he seemed to be aware of it. It was apprehension that ruled then, not aggressiveness.
The faith that the Liverpool manager showed in his young winger was eventually repaid with the series of dazzling displays he gave in the latter months of the season just passed; those were weeks in which he was seen as the Reds’ premier attacking threat, often ahead of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Sterling is brave, and perhaps it was that bravery that ultimately cost him in Miami.
Having been widely expected to start against Ecuador, the teenager watched on as Roy Hodgson picked Wayne Rooney to play from the left and then Ross Barkley in the more central role, the position where Sterling excelled for the Reds toward the end of the season.
When he came on, he’d have been on edge, on tenterhooks and on course to have an impact in the game in any way that he could. He just achieved it by sliding off the ground.
But it wasn’t a red card challenge, and the senior figures around him should be assuring him of that. Gerrard already was, judging by the consoling words he offered as Sterling trudged off the pitch.
Now it is up to Hodgson to sit the youngster down and encourage him to put this incident behind him. Dr Steve Peters, who’ll know Sterling from Liverpool, may have a part to play as well.
Because for England to have a chance of impressing in Brazil, they’ll need the turbo-charged freight train without a care in the world that their No. 19 was in the final few months of the Premier League season.
Sterling has bounced back from disappointment, uncertainty and castigation before, and even at such a tender age he can do so again.