Raheem Sterling has explained why he referred to himself as the "Hated One" of English football during Euro 2016 this summer and also hailed his new club manager Pep Guardiola.
The 21-year-old left Liverpool and moved to Manchester City in July 2015 for an initial £44 million fee, however he only managed to score six league goals and he struggled in his first season at the Etihad.
Sterling's poor form continued into the Euros and, on the back of some bad performances in France, he took the bulk of the criticism for England's disappointing tournament along with Harry Kane and Roy Hodgson, who resigned immediately after the defeat to Iceland.
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While he knew better than to take any notice of the trolling he received on social media, the young winger couldn't help it, and he has revealed how he was affected by being singled out for abuse following England's opening game against Russia.
"That really landed a huge blow to me," he told the Daily Mail. "After your first game, to see that, knowing that you were trying your best. No one goes out trying to play badly. That was a real low point for me."
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Sterling posted a picture on Instagram the day after that 1-1 draw, which you can see below, where he praised his teammates but also described himself as "The Hated One" - something which he has now removed.
He explained: "The reason behind that was because I tried to give it my all and get at my defender. I thought I got criticised a bit too much - in my opinion, everyone's entitled to their opinion. I was really looking forward to the tournament after a difficult campaign with City."
Sterling reborn under Pep
So, by his own admission, it was a tough debut year for him at City, but his form this term under Guardiola has been outstanding and he's registered four Premier League goals in just six games already.
Pep phoned Sterling during the Euros when he was at his lowest point, and the youngster feels that the confidence and freedom which the 45-year-old Spaniard gives him is the main reason why he is currently playing some of the best football of his blossoming career.
"Coming in this year, it's been different," Sterling claimed. "I had five minutes with Pep and he showed me on the board where he wants me to be and what he wants me to do and he said the rest was down to me.
"He said with my ability I needed to get at my defenders, try to make crosses and score and as soon as I lose the ball, get back into position. Against West Ham, I scored a goal and he wasn't happy because I didn't go at my full-back as much as he wanted and I had lots of opportunities.
"I feel I have more freedom to express myself now," he added. "I'm not going to lie about that - I feel much more free."
Having played a key role at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, Sterling was dubbed as the future of English football but failed to live up to expectations last season. That said, given his impressive start to this campaign, he seems ready to begin fulfilling his undoubted potential at the highest level.
Can Sterling become a superstar for both City and England? Leave YOUR opinion in the comments box below!
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