Raheem Sterling has been sensationally axed from England’s European Championship qualifier against Montenegro following Sportsmail’s revelations of an angry bust-up with Joe Gomez.
It is understood that Sterling attempted to grab Gomez by the neck following his arrival in the players’ canteen at St George’s Park on Monday, the day after they clashed during Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City.
Sportsmail revealed details of the heated exchange on Monday evening, with the FA confirming that Sterling would not be considered for selection against Montenegro on Thursday as a result. The 24-year-old will stay with the squad however and could play against Kosovo on Sunday.
‘The FA can confirm Raheem Sterling will not be considered for Thursday’s EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro as a result of a disturbance in a private team area at St. George’s Park today,’ a statement read. ‘He will remain with the squad.’
Sterling is understood to have apologised to Gomez and the squad after the altercation. Gomez and the squad accepted his apology.
Sterling then took to Instagram in the early hours of Tuesday morning to tell his side of the story. ‘We are in a sport where emotions run high and I am man enough to admit when emotions got the better of me,’ he posted. ‘Both Joe and I have had words and figured things out and moved on.’
Sterling had clashed with Gomez towards the end of the dramatic top-of-the-table clash at Anfield which left City nine points behind leaders Liverpool, and the bad blood spilled over on Monday.
The City winger is understood to have reacted aggressively after being greeted warmly by Gomez in the players’ canteen at St George’s Park in front of the rest of the squad, with the Liverpool defender stunned by Sterling’s outburst.
Sterling was sat down in the canteen when Gomez arrived and leant over from behind to shake his hand, leading to him to attempt to grab his team-mate by the neck.
The rest of the England players initially thought Sterling was joking, but it soon became clear that he had lost control and the pair were separated.
The incident was particularly surprising to the other Liverpool players present as Sterling and Gomez had made the peace following the game at Anfield with an embrace following the final whistle.
The cause of Sterling’s eruption was unclear, although England sources were speculating on Monday night that he may have reacted badly to being widely lampooned on social media for coming off second-best physically in the initial confrontation with Gomez.
The heated exchange plunged the FA into crisis talks on Monday night, with manager Gareth Southgate giving serious consideration as to whether Sterling should be sent home before opting to drop him for one game.
The 24-year-old is England’s most creative player and has been spoken of as a future captain because of the leadership skills he has developed over the past few seasons, a notion encouraged by Southgate.
‘We have taken the decision to not consider Raheem for the match against Montenegro on Thursday,’ Southgate said in a statement released by the FA. ‘One of the great challenges and strengths for us is that we’ve been able to separate club rivalries from the national team. Unfortunately the emotions of yesterday’s game were still raw.
‘My feeling is that the right thing for the team is the action we have taken. Now that the decision has been made with the agreement of the entire squad, it’s important that we support the players and focus on Thursday night.’
Much of the success of Southgate’s reign has been down to his ability to foster team spirit from a tight-knit group of players, but that may now be tested by the intense rivalry between City and Liverpool.
Southgate was already planning to have a quiet word with James Maddison after the Leicester midfield player opted to visit a casino during England’s surprise defeat to Czech Republic last month after he had withdrawn from the squad due to illness, and may now have to address the issue of discipline amongst his players.
The initial flare-up at Anfield was triggered by Sterling’s attempt to take the ball off Gomez as he pushed forward down the left-wing. Gomez had only been introduced shortly earlier as an 87th-minute substitute, but bore the brunt of Sterling’s frustrations following a difficult afternoon in which he was well marshalled by another England team-mate, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Sterling backed into Gomez, with the 6ft 2in Liverpool defender responding by giving him a pushing in the chest as he towered over his 5ft 7in opponent. The City winger responded by deliberately shoving into Gomez’s back with his shoulders after referee Michael Oliver had blown his whistle, which led James Milner to intervene by dragging his team-mate away from the incident.
Meanwhile, Southgate is set to give Maddison his England debut in one of this week’s clashes against Montenegro and Kosovo.
The Leicester midfielder has featured in three of Southgate’s squads but is yet to make his debut. And after a collection of sterling performances at club level, there is a sense within the England camp that the 22-year-old is finally ready.
Southgate will also speak to Maddison about the controversy over his casino visit just 24 hours after withdrawing from England’s last squad through illness, though sources have indicated the England manager will not severely reprimand the midfielder.
England face Montenegro on Thursday at Wembley — where a win will book their place at Euro 2020 — before flying to Pristina to face Kosovo on Sunday.