BURTON ON TRENT, England (Reuters) - England winger Raheem Sterling says he has been touched by the support of many fans after facing criticism over a gun tattoo on his leg.
The Manchester City forward posted a photograph on Instagram while training with the England team at St George’s Park ahead of next month’s World Cup in Russia with the tattoo of an assault rifle clearly visible on his right leg.
Anti-gun campaigners labelled the tattoo “disgusting”. Sterling, however, defended himself last week, saying the tattoo had a “deeper meaning” and referred to his late father, who was shot dead when he was a boy.
Far from coming under sustained attack following the publication of pictures, many fans on social media expressed the view that the 23-year-old was being unfairly picked on.
“I heard that there were a lot of positives. I am grateful to see stuff like that,” Sterling said during England’s media day at their St George’s Park training centre on Tuesday.
“It just shows how far I am coming and how much the people are really taking to me as a person, because they can probably see my true colours and my true personality, so it’s really good to see.”
The winger said that despite the furore over his body art, he had not been distracted from his preparations with England.
“It’s not really been that tough. Things happened and get spoken about but I put that to one side.
“I’ve been focussed on training so for me it was a normal week to be honest. The only thing that changed was I was in the newspapers a bit more.
“It’s obviously bad to see yourself spoken of in that light, but it’s not something that gets me down.
“I’ve got a World Cup to prepare for. I’ve had training sessions every day so my mind was already occupied, so that was the least of my worries,” he said.
Of more concern to England fans will be Sterling’s lack of goals in national team colours.
For Pep Guardiola’s City, Sterling scored 23 goals in 46 games in all competitions but he has just two for England in 38 games and has not scored for his country since October, 2015.
The former Liverpool forward, however, says he is not anxious over his scoring record.
“I am not really desperate. If the team goes all the way and does really well and wins every game and I don’t score, I am telling you I’ll be more than excited,” he said.
“As long as we do progress and do well, as long as I can help, if I don’t score it’s not the biggest issue in the world as long as we do well. That’s my main focus.
“But the goals will come and I am sure of that,” said Sterling.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis