Former Red Devils striker Andrew Cole has commended Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling for the way he handled the racist abuse of England players against Montenegro.
Racist chanting was directed at several Three Lions players, including Danny Rose and Sterling, during their comprehensive 5-1 Euro 2020 qualifier victory in Podgorica on Monday.
Sterling reacted by pulling his ears in front of the home fans after scoring the visitors’ fifth goal before calling for a stadium ban for Montenegro as punishment after the game.
For Manchester United legend Cole, the racist abuse in Montenegro’s capital was all too familiar – but he hailed 24-year-old Sterling for how he conducted himself on and off the pitch.
“I was disappointed with the aftermath of the game against Montenegro, of course I was, but we can stand here and talk about those things until the cows come home,” said Cole at the European launch of this year’s International Champions Cup in Cardiff.
“Nothing really moves forward, we just seem to keep going around in circles, but I’ve been very impressed with Raheem – his football and the way he has conducted himself off the pitch.
“It’s a testament to him for what he’s been through. Those same people who are now applauding him were the ones previously on his back, so I’m impressed with how he’s conducted himself.
“It’s always the same, you’re going to feel disappointed about it [the racist abuse] because that’s the kind of thing we’re trying to stamp out of football.
“What I will say is that I commend Raheem for the way he’s gone about his business, he’s a really nice kid and he’s taken a hell of a lot of flak over the past few months.
“He’s let his football do the talking and he has shown everyone what a good footballer he is. As well as doing it with his feet, he’s also done it the other way as well and that’s a testament to him.”
The Football Association released a statement following England’s victory over Montenegro which condemned “abhorrent racist chanting” during the game at the Gradski Stadion.
UEFA also opened disciplinary proceedings against the hosts, which includes a char of racist behaviour – with a partial stadium ban among the possible punishments.
And Cole would support players if they decided to walk off mid-game – insisting that racism in football is a societal problem which still continues to pervade the English game as well.
“Does it anger me? Of course it does, but society is what it is,” Cole said. “It’s not just England’s opponents the other night, it’s in our society as well so we have to get our own house in order.
“It will be interesting to see what the punishment is, whether they deduct points or something else, but are they going to make it through? Is deducting points really going to hurt them?
“I don’t believe it is going to hurt them. Closing the stadium is going to hurt them a lot more than deducting points as no professional footballer wants to play in an empty stadium.
“The fine for me personally is irrelevant because they pay the fine and then a couple of weeks later the same thing is going to happen, so we’ll have to wait and see.
“If I was playing I’d be more than prepared to walk off because I don’t think anyone should be subjected to that kind of abuse, I don’t care what colour or creed you are.
“No one should be subjected to that. If I was playing now I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about walking off, that’s just me, but the way Raheem and Danny Rose dealt with it – I take my hat off to them.
“They are two strong characters to accept that kind of abuse. We’re in the 21st century and you should’t have to accept that abuse, but it was right for them to stand up for themselves.”
Manchester United face AC Milan in the International Champions Cup at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on 3 August, KO 5.30pm. Tickets available from £25/£10 from www.ticketmaster.co.uk