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Raheem Sterling Unfairly Targeted by England Fans

Sterling the latest in a long line of distinguished players unfairly blamed by Three Lions fans for failings

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

England fans, particularly those who don't follow a big club are never rational when it comes to high-profile players. Raheem Sterling is just the latest star player to be run down by England supporters joining an exclusive club which in recent years has included the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard among others. When England doesn't lift major trophies or looks to some untrained eyes lackluster in matches, it's the fault of whichever player misses a "sitter" or doesn't get "stuck in" on challenges.

Sterling's particular sin this Euro 2016 where he has become the more convenient scapegoat for England's relative struggles is that he hasn't finished two golden chances in front of goal. We know Sterling isn't the cleanest finisher but his work rate in the 1-1 draw against Russia was a big part of the reason England created so many chances and half chances. Multiple journalists who provide match ratings after England games gave Sterling a 7 or an 8 for his performance. Yet he was the England player most panned by fans after that game even though it was Chris Smalling's error that led directly to Russia's late and largely undeserved equalizer.

But Smalling didn't receive the type of vitriol Sterling did after the match. Three Lions Manager Roy Hodgson kept faith with Sterling for the second game of the competition against Wales and beyond missing a sitter Sterling did nothing particularly wrong in the first half.  But with England down 1-0 and the Three Lions midfield being overwhelmed by the excellent Welsh play particularly of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool's Joe Allen, chances to get the ball to Sterling or Adam Lallana in dangerous areas with space were limited.

England did go on to score twice after Sterling's withdrawal to rescue the match and pass Wales atop the Group B standings. With this, Sterling has been the target of even more abuse.

Highly-paid players who are successful at a young age tend to be the target of England's band of traveling fans, many who have a deep-seeded resentment against the spending in the Premier League era. Sterling who is the most expensive English transfer on record exemplifies the very spending these fans decry.

Three Lions Captain Wayne Rooney is the poster child for England fan abuse. After World Cup 2010 and clashes with fans in South Africa, I was convinced Rooney would retire from national team duty. Instead  Rooney has gone from scapegoat to Captain even though it's a common theme among England fans that he should be dropped and is playing poorly - from my vantage point Rooney was the single best player on the pitch in England's 1-1 draw with Russia and his late withdrawal opened the door for Russia's equalizer.

But tactically nuanced discussions aren't relevant to many fans every two years when a major tournament roles around and Three Lions fans gin up the heroic notion of England duty. Sterling is just the latest in a long line of excellent players to learn this the hard way.