Sunday, October 28, 2012
The extraordinary story of Raheem Sterling ( MARTHA KELNER, 27 October 2012, Daily Mail)
His journey to one of the most fearsome cauldrons in football began almost 5,000 miles away in a notoriously dangerous district of Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived until he was six, when he emigrated to Britain and settled with his family on one of London's toughest estates.
His remarkable story is a glorious example of how parents, schools and football clubs can combine to turn sporting talent into success in even the most difficult circumstances.
Chris Beschi, who taught Sterling at Vernon House Special School, says it is testament to his strength of character and the support system around him that he is on the path to fulfilling his sizeable potential.
'He came to Vernon House because he was having problems in mainstream primary school with his behaviour,' said Beschi. 'He was definitely the kid in the school who had a kind and innocent passion about him. He had a happy nature that would sometimes tip over into anger.'
Beschi added: 'I remember saying to him as a 10-year-old, "If you carry on the way you're going, by the time you're 17 you'll either be playing for England or you'll be in prison". It was a harsh thing to say and I don't think it was a defining moment for him, but I definitely felt it was true.
'There wasn't going to be a middle ground for him. He wasn't going to be some guy working as a mechanic or a labourer. He was always going to be remarkable.'
Sterling was the tiny boy with a huge smile in a class of troubled youngsters.
Beschi would walk a mile with them every week, across a trading estate, to take pictures of a building site where often nothing much changed at all.
It took far longer than anticipated but, before Sterling's eyes, the new Wembley Stadium was completed.
The iconic arch became a backdrop to his junior football career, visible from his home on St Raphael's estate in Neasden, north-west London, where he shunned gangs to play five-a-side with friends, and the Copland High School playing fields, in nearby Wembley, where he honed his game.
Last month, Sterling, already an England Under-21 player, sat on the bench at Wembley with Gary Cahill and Michael Carrick as an unused substitute in his first senior call-up.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
I’VE BEEN FASCINATED—OR should I say terrified—by Argentina’s violent brand of soccer since 1996, when I saw the Buenos Aires team Boca Juniors play in their notoriously tight little stadium, La Bombonera. Boca is famous for the quality of its play but also for its fan club—La Doce, the 12th Man—which has occupied the same north terrace for half a century, always standing, always singing, usually fighting.
That night, Boca fans began the match in style, igniting Roman candles that spewed red flames, sparks, and smoke over their heads. Enormous blue-and-gold flags unfurled from the upper levels. It was intimidating to watch from the opposite end, where I stood with a few thousand supporters of a team called Gimnasia, 50,000 people hating on me and my new friends.
The unaccountable happened: the unheralded Gimnasia handed Boca its worst defeat in half a century, a 6–0 stomper that sent waves of Boca fans crashing against the fencing that protected us. Trash and cups filled with urine rained down on us. Fleeing with Gimnasia fans, I found the streets of a great capital awash in cavalry and tear gas.
Don’t cry for Argentina. Brazil may be more famous as a soccer nation, the beautiful game embodied today by the 20-year-old juggler Neymar. And Europe remains soccer’s center of gravity: English clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea rule the global bandwidth, and Spanish clubs have ruled the pitch, bringing home two European championships in the past five years.
Yet, often enough the Europeans get there with an Argentine: Barcelona’s striker is the shaggy-haired, fertile-footed Lionel Messi, the dominant player of this age. Sergio “Kun” Agüero and Carlos Tévez, who led Manchester City to this year’s league championship, are both Argentines. So is Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore. In 2009, Argentina surpassed Brazil as the world’s top producer of soccer talent, farming out 1,700 players to professional leagues abroad. Soccer goes deep here—the first league was founded in 1891, the third-oldest in the world after England and the Netherlands.
But what Argentina really excels at is not so much the play of soccer as the bloodsucking financial exploitation and mob atmosphere that accompanies it. Corruption, of course, is nothing new in the sport. Italian teams are suffering their second major gambling scandal in six years, with reports of one player drugging his own team. Sepp Blatter, the four-time president of soccer’s global body, FIFA—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association—has set a low standard, trailed by clouds of bribery allegations and the same marketing scandal that recently brought down Brazil’s longtime soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira.