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Raheem Sterling: How a life of adversity shaped the England star to thrive in football and pursue racial justice

The Manchester City forward has been England’s standout performer during the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 campaign so far. Sean O’Grady considers an extraordinarily talented player who has faced more than his fair share of challenges and heartbreak – yet, somehow, always manages to have the last laugh

Tuesday 29 June 2021 18:38
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<p>Sterling mocks racist fans after scoring England’s fifth goal during a qualifying match against Montenegro in 2019</p>

Sterling mocks racist fans after scoring England’s fifth goal during a qualifying match against Montenegro in 2019

At 26 years of age, Raheem Sterling MBE, as we must now learn to call him, is a man who’s achieved extraordinary things in an extraordinarily short time, and is in understandably high demand. Gareth Southgate included him in his squad for the Euros and the forward has repaid his manager’s trust in him on the pitch, scoring three goals despite doubts about Sterling’s recent form (having scored only once for England and five times for his club since February, albeit he did his bit to help Manchester City to the Premier League title and to reach the Champions League final). There are the usual rumours, more or less well-founded, that the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal have an interest in him. There’s even wild talk about a return to Liverpool, the club Sterling left in controversial circumstances six years ago (Jurgen Klopp has indicated he might take some persuading). Sterling remains popular at Manchester City, though, where his teammates nicknamed him “Heemio” for his Brazilian-style flicks and flair. He’s on about £8m a year, and is renegotiating his deal as he approaches the last two years of his contract. As far as he is concerned, he says he is blanking everything out until the Euros are over. No doubt if he helps bring football “home” he’ll be in even greater demand, and can trade in the MBE for a knighthood when he gets to Buckingham Palace.

Not bad, then, for a boy who started life as part of an extended family of ten occupying a three-bungalow in Maverley, a poor district of Kingston, Jamaica. His was a highly disrupted, not to say traumatic childhood. His mum, Nadine Clarke, came to England when Raheem was a toddler, and he and his elder stepsister Lakima were looked after for a couple of years by his nan, Joy Morris. He and Lakima then joined mum in London, around Neasden and, portentously enough, near Wembley stadium. His footballing talent was evident even back in Jamaica. Joy, by then living in Canada, painted this picture of the embryonic star in an interview with The Sun a few years ago:

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