After controversial Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling once again made headlines following the appearance of a picture of him smoking nitrous oxide, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) said that he should be treated with understanding.
“Many of us look back at things we have done in our teens and early 20s and wish we hadn’t done them. He’s made a mistake and people are human,” PFA deputy chief executive Bobby Barnes said in an interview by Press Association Sport. “I am sure this will be a minor blip on his path to a fantastic career.”
“He’s a young man, growing up in public eye and he’s made a mistake. Let’s not be too hard on the boy. He is under a lot of pressure and people think because he has a lot of talent he’s also supposed to have diplomacy and wisdom.”
However, Barnes was quick to assert that they are not treating the matter lightly. “Nobody would condone the use of these types of substances, whether legal or otherwise, as footballers are seen as role models,” he stressed.
Earlier this week, a photo of Sterling circulated showing him seemingly inhaling legal nitrous oxide (not tobacco, as earlier reported) through a traditional shisha waterpipe, with a caption implying that he is about to smoke more. No details were provided as to whether the young winger did inhale the substance and where the event happened, but some media outfits have claimed it was during a night out with his friends.
“It does send a message to young people that if it’s good enough for footballers then it’s good enough for them and that is not desirable,” Barnes said. “but you have to bear in mind that we ask an awful lot of young players growing up in the public eye.”
The PFA head also reminded players of the importance of protecting their public image. “Players have to be aware that there is camera on every corner — they are very much in the spotlight.”
Earlier, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodegers has said that he will personally speak to Sterling about the incident.