Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling has defended the new tattoo of a gun on his right leg after receiving criticism in some quarters.
The 23-year-old took to Instagram to explain that the image of an M16 assault rifle has "a deeper meaning" connected with his father's death, while he also wrote the tattoo is "unfinished."
The Press Association's Simon Peach relayed the full post:
Sterling's new tattoo was first noted after it appeared in another of his Instagram posts which showed him training with England:
It prompted a strong reaction, with the image being described as "sick" and calls made for Sterling to be dropped from the Three Lions squad in an article in The Sun (via Neil Henderson of the BBC):
However, many others, including Oliver Kay of The Times and former England forward Gary Lineker, questioned the criticism of Sterling:
Oliver Kay @OliverKayTimes
I like Raheem Sterling. Talented, determined footballer, role model for a lot of kids, a great success story. A gun tattoo doesn’t look like his greatest idea ever (and yes I read his Instagram post, which was very sad), but who actually cares? It’s a tattoo. Give him a break FFS
Kristan Heneage @KHeneage
Although he owed the world no explanation, Sterling has also issued this on his Instagram to explain his tattoo. Had The Sun even thought/tried to contact his representative for comment they'd likely have been told the story. We have to call this stuff out, it's poisonous. https://t.co/5RmJ5hSoZs
Jake Humphrey @mrjakehumphrey
The reality v the Sun headline. Every major tournament it feels something is done to rock the England boat, to damage players morale...then we wonder why they struggle. Let’s see what comes of surrounding this young England team with praise, positivity and our best wishes? https://t.co/uCLm2MRfm5
The former Liverpool star is set to play a key role for Gareth Southgate's England side at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Alongside captain Harry Kane, Sterling is one of the few players who should be guaranteed a starting spot in the Three Lions' opener against Tunisia on June 18 after a fantastic 2017-18 campaign.
He played a key role for Manchester City as they ran away with the Premier League title, netting 18 goals and providing 11 assists in 33 appearances.