Shaun Wright-Phillips has hailed Raheem Sterling’s handling of racial abuse and described the City forward as an inspirational role model.
Sterling was the victim of racially abusive language during our game away at Chelsea last season, which ended with one fan being banned from Stamford Bridge for life.
The incident came after a troubling week for football which saw a Tottenham Hotspur supporter arrested for throwing a banana skin at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during Arsenal’s derby victory at the Emirates Stadium.
Sterling went on to highlight the media’s role in fuelling racial tension using his Instagram account, a move that saw him widely praised for the measured and intelligent way he brought the issue into the spotlight.
And Wright-Phillips, who himself was subjected to abuse when playing for England against Spain in Madrid back in 2004, says Sterling's use of social media to get his message across was powerful – and believes his model behaviour will help influence younger generations positively.
“Raheem handled it like a boss,” Wright-Phillips says. “Obviously now there’s a bigger platform to speak out so he could get his message and point across to a lot more people whereas when it happened to me social media wasn’t that powerful.
“The way I dealt with it was to laugh at it and say: “How old are you? We’re in a different time now and football is multicultural.”
“It’s horrible to see it still in the game, especially for kids growing up now. That’s why the way Raheem dealt with it is powerful because kids follow him and will know it isn’t acceptable.
“So many people have always been on his back and I’ve never understood why. He’s a family man and you never hear about him messing around, he’s a family person. Although his image is outstanding now, I never thought it was bad in the first place.”
As well as becoming one of sport’s pre-eminent role models off the pitch, Sterling is also in premium form on it.
He has scored five goals already this season, building on the incredible 48 he scored in the previous two campaigns combined.
Few players have been as central as Sterling to our recent success under Pep Guardiola, and Wright-Phillips is full of praise for Sterling’s performances.
“He’s outstanding,” Wright-Phillips says. “He’s a delight to watch, always plays with a smile on his face and does what City fans love – works hard, fights for the club and under Pep he’s grown so much.
“People always talk about his end product and now you just expect him to have 15 assists a season.
“It’s looking like he could hit 30 goals this season and I hope he does.”
Wright-Phillips was talking during City’s global Trophy Tour, a celebration of us becoming the first team in English football history to win six trophies in a single season across both men’s and women’s teams.
The six-month tour will see us visit mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, USA, Brazil, Nigeria, UAE, Egypt, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand and India, giving fans across the globe the chance to get close to the silverware.
Wright-Phillips was with us in the USA and Brazil, and he says it’s a ‘dream’ for him to continue his involvement with City, who he feels remain a club rooted in traditional values.
“City has always had a place in my heart so to still be a part of it now I’m not playing anymore, I still feel like I’m involved in City which is a dream,” he says.
“The fact I get to show the trophies to the rest of world and show them what City is about is amazing. The football festival at the Museu do Futebol in Sao Paulo was so family oriented, which is just City all over, and the way it has been since I was 16.
“It was very cool to meet City fans, especially with Elano at the football festival in Sao Paulo. He explained how passionate fans are about football in general, and how they combine their support for Premier League teams with Brazilian teams.
“It just shows how far Man City have come and how they are loved in so many cultures around the world.”
So, did Wright-Phillips ever believe City would be parading six major trophies on a global trophy tour?
“I would more say I didn’t think it would happen this quickly," he added.
“What the club have built has been fast in terms of dominating the country, and to a point Europe even though we fell at a late hurdle last season.
“People now fear Manchester City and that doesn’t normally happen this quickly.”