Raheem Sterling has credited the inclusive England environment cultivated by Gareth Southgate with helping him to ignore a recent slew of negative headlines.
The 23-year-old was a star performer for Manchester City this season, scoring 23 times in all competitions as Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking side lifted the Premier League and the EFL Cup.
But the Sun ran front-page stories criticising Sterling for a tattoo depicting a gun on his right leg last week – the player swiftly explained it was part of an unfinished piece of body art paying tribute to his late father.
It then emerged he arrived late to England’s pre-World Cup training camp on the back of a mix-up with flights, while a lively showing in Saturday’s 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria was stained by a yellow card for simulation during the second half.
Speaking to reporters at a pre-tournament media day, Sterling insisted it has been business as usual for him within the Three Lions squad.
“From the minute Gareth’s come in he’s said the only thing we can control is what’s in our circle – the training ground and the facilities,” he said.
“I think in the past we’ve maybe paid a bit too much attention to the outside. The way he’s brought the squad together as a unit [means] we try to limit what we do and talk about from the outside.
“We try to keep everything inside on a positive note and know everyone in the building has got each other’s back.”
“With the stuff that’s gone on over the past week, the boys saw me around the place and knew that, quite frankly, I wasn’t really too bothered about it.
“It’s one of those things. Things get reported and that’s the end of it.
“If I was affected by it I’m most definitely sure that the boys would be there for me.”
Sterling was swiftly defended in the face of the Sun’s coverage by the Football Association and prominent football figures such as ex-England striker Gary Lineker.
Hostile tabloid coverage has become a fact of life for the former Liverpool player but he does not feel he is being particularly singled out.
“These things come as part of the game. It’s something that I’ve learned to deal with and take on board and not really look at it in a negative way,” he explained.
“People have said what they’ve said. All I can do is keep training and playing football matches.
“I don’t feel there’s an agenda, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a World Cup coming up and news is news. What gets put out gets put out.
“I’m not looking at it as something that’s just against me.”