My last Birmingham Mail column of the season on June 6th

It is a sign that a major tournament is close when our national newspapers start printing negative stories about players who will represent England. It really is a truism that we “build them up only to enjoy knocking them down again”. On the end of it this time is Raheem Sterling who has been heavily criticised for having a tattoo of a firearm on his leg. To be honest I don’t like the prevalence of tattoos on footballers anyway and probably one of a gun is not the smartest thing to do.

However when you hear why he had it done it is easier to understand he said “"When I was 2 my father died from being gunned down to death I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my life time, I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning and is still unfinished,". That explanation, if he needed to give one, should be enough but oh no! The holier than thou brigade are demanding he be dropped from England World Cup squad if he doesn’t have it removed etc.

Now had he been caught with a real gun in his possession I would also be shouting for him to be dropped from Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad? But for having what is described as “body art” no way- it’s time for some people to get a grip and give the boy a break.

It is his body and if he wants to cover it with lots of tattoos then that is his choice and as long as they are not homophobic or racist then we really should leave the young man alone.

I would much rather see him criticised for his pathetic dive that earned him a yellow card during England’s friendly with Nigeria. I found that more reprehensible than a tattoo of a gun. Talented as he so obviously is Sterling has a history of diving and it is probably part of his footballing mind-set to cheat the opposition and referee whenever he can to win a penalty.

However Video Assistant Referee replays in the World Cup will mean he has to change that mentality and change it quickly or he could find himself banned for crucial England games.

While talking about the World Cup I see a lot of criticism of the England Head Coach Gareth Southgate because he did not appear to be excited about the tournament during his press conferences. From that I assume they mean he is not banging the drum about how well they are going to do etc.

He is spot on to not feed the media with headlines as we have had all that pre-tournament hype and ballyhoo far too many times and yet subsequently failed to deliver when the action got underway. He came across to me as cautiously optimistic that they would give a good account of themselves. It is his job to prepare the players to perform as best as they can and not to be a World Cup marketing executive for the media.

Personally and like most supporters I can see them qualifying from the group stages and, to be honest, so they should along with Belgium, however I am not quite so optimistic from thereon in. I believe reaching the quarter finals is the best we can hope for but would not be surprised to see them go out in the round of sixteen.

I really hope I am wrong and that the team surprises me and everyone else who will be rooting for them in front of TV sets all over the country.  

The amount of players coming into the Premier League from, what would have been in the past been called lesser footballing nations, have in fact ended up strengthening those national teams which is why in my opinion there are so few easy games internationally. Just look at how well Iceland did in Euro 2016!

Most of their best players are playing in the best/toughest league in the world The Premier League while others are in the German Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga or France’s Ligue 1.

This has not only strengthened their national teams but in my opinion has contributed to weakening the England team.

If as expected England get through the group then they will face either Columbia, Japan, Poland or Senegal. On the face of it Japan look the weakest but even they have players playing in England, Germany, Spain and France.

You don’t have to be a genius to see that the strongest teams are Brazil, France, Germany and Spain. In my opinion the winner will be one of these four and I am going for Brazil and if not them then France.

If picking a winner was only this easy sadly it isn’t and as we know only too well in football anything can happen and usually does. Good luck to Gareth Southgate and the England squad. As one who watched England win the World Cup in 1966 (On the telly) I can say without any fear of argument it’s been far too long sadly I fear the wait will continue for some time yet especially while the love of money continues to dominate every decision made in the game in this country.