It’s rare, but I can’t say I’ve never witnessed two England team-mates coming to blows on international duty, as Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez did on Monday at St George’s Park.
On one occasion, four of us were in a taxi back from an official England team function – including two Scousers who played for different clubs and did not see eye to eye.
One was annoying the other, it escalated into a scuffle, and we had to break it up.
So it does happen; this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Footballers aren’t all the same in their make-up, players don’t always like each other, and at training grounds up and down the country there are skirmishes.
I was a little surprised that Sterling would get tangled up in a row like this because he has matured into such a level-headed individual in recent years, but he’s only human so you can’t criticise him too much.
The adrenaline was clearly still pumping from the previous day’s match, in which Sterling and Gomez clashed towards the end of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City.
This was a fixture that had a huge build-up – the biggest game on the planet, a Premier League title decider even though it’s only November – and, on top of City losing, Sterling received his usual abuse from the home fans for leaving Anfield for City.
You could see the frustration boiling up during the game – in fact, when Sterling and Gomez clashed late on, my first thought was that they’d be coming face-to-face again hours later at St George’s Park.
But footballers are competitive animals; that’s what drives them to reach the top level. It isn’t as easy as simply switching it on and off.
Sterling’s fracas with Gomez has inflicted a flesh wound on team spirit. It will heal, but the scar will always be there.
It has shown that everything isn’t quite as rock solid in Southgate’s dressing room as the progress and atmosphere of his time in charge had led us to believe.
For all of the manager’s efforts, in some ways there will always be divides in the England camp because of club allegiances. Players just have to get on with it for the greater good.
In announcing that Sterling has been dropped for Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro, Southgate has made clear that blame has been apportioned to the City forward. Sterling, for his part, has accepted it and apologised to the squad.
Sterling has grown in importance to England to the point that he’s probably the first name on the team-sheet, so leaving him out is significant. Having said that, they will be expected to beat Montenegro and seal their place at next summer’s tournament without him.
What’s important is that Southgate has been clear on what he will and won’t tolerate – no matter who you are. That has drawn a line under the incident and the team can now put it behind them.
Although these flashpoints aren’t common, without firm action this could happen again. By being strong and making the right call, Southgate has ensured that it won’t.
Main image credit: Getty