Neil Humphreys: Raheem Sterling punishment just farcical
England ban results from crazy, artificial outrage
The most controversial aspect of the ongoing Raheem Sterling farce is a failure to acknowledge the comedy.
Remember, the little winger reportedly confronted the enormous Joe Gomez and allegedly said: "Still the big man?"
To which, Gomez could only really reply: "Well, yes, actually."
Sterling is barely 1.7m tall. Gomez stands at an imposing 1.9m. When they confronted each other in the dying moments of the Liverpool-Manchester City clash, they didn't really go eyeball to eyeball, but eyeball to nostril hairs.
And yet, the reckless Sterling reportedly allowed his simmering rage to boil over when the English Premier League rivals met at their England camp on Monday.
Sterling allegedly grabbed Gomez around the neck, presumably with the aid of the magic ladder that he must take with him to the canteen. But it's no laughing matter. Indeed, this is the sternest of stern matters.
England manager Gareth Southgate underlined his stern response, dropping Sterling for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Friday morning (Singapore time).
A stern press release from the England Football Association reiterated the stern nature of this unfortunate episode.
Sterling also released a contrite statement in the court of public opinion, also known as Instagram, admitting that "emotions got the better" of him.
Southgate was all about the emotions, too, insisting that "the emotions of Sunday's game were still raw".
At a time when PR-programmed footballers display less human emotion than the robots in the new Terminator movie that no one bothered to see, Sterling has been punished for being emotional.
Football is emotional. Sport is emotional. People are emotional. The fact that Sterling was still bubbling away after City's debilitating 3-1 defeat at Anfield could be evidence of the kind of instinctive feistiness that the bureaucrats are constantly trying to strip away - one annoying VAR decision at a time.
Footballers are usually criticised for being soulless husks filled with nothing but cash and a series of rehearsed cliches. Sterling tries to break the stereotype, admittedly by trying to break Gomez's neck, and he's a volatile diva.
It's almost as if the players can't win.
Sterling certainly can't. He'll miss the historic Montenegro game, England's 1,000th international fixture and a genuine cause for celebration.
Southgate dropped him. And England castigated him, which unleashed the social media trolls to do their worst (and believe me, they are doing their worst).
Between Southgate, Sterling, England and the army of online pundits, all ready and woke, there were more statements than a malfunctioning bank account.
Call it an unfortunate by-product of the fearful, woke culture, but the speedy determination to make a public statement, literally and otherwise, and to throw Sterling under the bus seems more about the optics than the actual crime.
Doing the right thing and being seen to be doing the right thing have become two different things in the current, jittery climate. Sterling could've been rebuked, fined and even dropped behind closed doors, with Southgate insisting the internal matter had been satisfactorily dealt with.
Even if England officials were aware that Sterling's feeble attempt to take on Goliath without a sling was about to be leaked to the media, the winger shouldn't have been thrown to the trolling savages.
Without wishing to spell out the bleeding obvious, a seething minority of dribbling idiots has always lurked in the seediest corners of cyberspace, waiting for any opportunity to give Sterling an online kicking.
It's a black and white issue.
A short footballer foolishly indulged in a bit of handbags with a much larger footballer. That's it. Gomez dismissed the daft incident for what it was and later accepted Sterling's apology.
It wasn't even a proper fight. When Andy Carroll punched Steven Taylor in the jaw during a Newcastle training season in March 2010, ruling Taylor out for the rest of the campaign; that was a fight.
Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini tried to physically drag Mario Balotelli off the training pitch (one presumes he failed). John Hartson went a bit Karate Kid on Eyal Berkovic at West Ham. Joey Barton famously decked Ousmane Dabo with a flurry of punches during a Man City session.
These incidents are not condoned, but they are examples of the violent outbursts that have been a part of training sessions since professional football began.
And yet, Sterling has been hung out to dry for a minor scrape as his employers seek to get out in front of the issue. Their response reflects the magnitude of their PR image rather than his misdemeanour.
Even if Sterling deserved a private punishment, he certainly doesn't deserve such a public persecution.