Pep Guardiola has contacted Raheem Sterling to reassure the England winger that he will be a key figure in his plans at Manchester City, despite being singled out for criticism following his below-par performances at Euro 2016.
Sterling, 21, has been targeted for abuse on social media and booed by England supporters in France having struggled to make an impact in games against Russia and Wales. The former Liverpool player was then dropped by Roy Hodgson for the 0-0 draw against Slovakia in Saint Etienne and is likely to be overlooked once again when the manager names his team for Monday’s second round tie against Iceland in Nice.
Sterling described himself as “The Hated One” after being subjected to a hostile reaction from fans following the 1-1 draw against Russia, prompting team-mates and senior staff within the England camp to urge the £49m winger to refrain from using social media during the tournament.
But with Guardiola due to take charge at City next month following his appointment as successor to Manuel Pellegrini, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach telephoned Sterling ahead of the Slovakia game to make it clear to the youngster that he has a bright future under him at the Etihad Stadium.
“Pep called Raheem at the weekend,” a source close to the player said. “He told Raheem that, as long as you work hard for me, I will fight for you. He said, ‘Keep your head up, don’t worry. I know you are a good player and you are a big part of my plans.’”
Guardiola is understood to have made it clear to Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, that he was a big admirer of Sterling prior to his controversial transfer from Liverpool last year.
The new City manager believes that Sterling’s pace, energy and attacking threat, alongside the qualities of Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, will be crucial components of his team next season.
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