A training camp altercation between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez was likened to a family argument by England manager Gareth Southgate on Tuesday after the players’ club rivalry spilled over into the international arena.
A day after they clashed on the field during a high-profile Premier League game between Manchester City and Liverpool, Sterling and Gomez were involved in what the English Football Association described as a “disturbance in a private team area” after they joined up with the national team on Monday.
Sterling was apparently the aggressor in the exchange – the winger acknowledged in a post on Instagram that “emotions got the better of me” – and was dropped by Southgate for the European Championship qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday.
“Both Joe and I have had words and figured things out and moved on,” Sterling wrote.
Southgate took a conciliatory tone after bringing forward his planned media appearance by 24 hours to address the issue.
“I love all of my players,” he said. “We are like a family and all family have disagreements. Most important for any family is to come through those disagreements and work through them. I don’t expect as a manager to never have to deal with things that are unexpected or difficult.
“It’s part and parcel of the job and part and parcel of working with elite players. Our focus now is to move forward.”
Southgate appeared to absolve Gomez of any blame in the incident, saying: “Raheem in his post last night explained for a very brief moment his emotions ran over. It would be correct to say that’s not the same for Joe.”
Southgate did not elaborate on an apparent scratch beneath Gomez’s right eye that was seen as he trained on Tuesday, or suggestions that Sterling was initially sent home before being summoned back to camp at the national training centre at St. George’s Park in the West Midlands.
He did not mention Jordan Henderson by name, following reports the Liverpool captain was central to breaking up the altercation, but said he was thankful for the intervention of some calmer heads.
“We have some excellent senior players who’ve played a part in bringing everyone together,” Southgate said.
England said Sterling will remain with the squad at the national training centre, with the team also playing away to Kosovo on Sunday.
The decision to withdraw Sterling from contention for the match against Montenegro deprives England of possibly its best player, with the City star having scored eight goals and set up five more during Euro 2020 qualification.
England can secure its place in next year’s finals with a win at Wembley, on what will be the team’s 1,000th fixture.
One of Southgate’s biggest successes has been his ability to create a strong bond between players, no matter what their club backgrounds are. That hasn’t always been the case with England.
Only last year, former England defender Rio Ferdinand said club rivalries “killed” the chances of the national team winning anything during its so-called “golden generation” at the start of this century, when high-profile players from Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea were in the team.
“One year we would have been fighting Liverpool to win the league, another year it would be Chelsea,” said Ferdinand, who was a Premier League and Champions League winner with United. “So I was never going to walk into the England dressing room and open up to Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry or Joe Cole at Chelsea, or Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher at Liverpool.
“I wouldn’t open up because of the fear they would take something back to their club and use it against us, to make them better than us. I didn’t really want to engage with them.”
Ferdinand said “it overshadowed things. It killed that England team, that generation.”
The rivalry between City and Liverpool is a rather new one in English soccer, with the two teams vying for the Premier League title last season and seen as the two biggest contenders this season, too.
Liverpool, the league leader, moved nine points clear of City with a 3-1 win at Anfield on Sunday, and Sterling – a former Liverpool player – was again a target of vitriol for home fans. Gomez went on as a late substitute in that game and shoved Sterling in the chest as the two players squared up before being separated.