Jermaine Lannaman, Gleaner Writer
Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore says while slightly disappointed, he is not surprised that 17-year-old Jamaica-born forward, Raheem Sterling, took the decision to play for England.
Sterling, who has so far had a breakout season in the English Premier League (EPL) with Liverpool, was yesterday given a call-up by England coach Roy Hodgson ahead of their World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) against the Ukraine today at Wembley.
"It was not surprising to me," said Whitmore, who is currently in the USA with the Boyz ahead of today's return-leg CONCACAF semi-final round WCQ clash against the United States in Columbus, Ohio.
"When you have a player playing for Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea, I think one's agent would want to tend to lure them to play for an England, and this appears to be the case," Whitmore surmised.
Whitmore was quoted in an exclusive interview in The STAR last Tuesday saying the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) had signalled an interest to Sterling, who after five appearances for Liverpool this season has impressed many with his dazzling pace, skill and general awareness.
At the time, Whitmore was quick to point out that the decision to play for Jamaica or England ultimately rested in the hands of Sterling, who has progressed through England's youth ranks, having represented the country at the Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19 levels.
"We definitely showed an interest in Sterling before and we are just waiting on him now for the go-ahead," said Whitmore then.
"We have seen him (Sterling) a number of times. He is a quality player with a lot to offer this programme, but it's up to him, and the door is open," he added.
Asked yesterday if he felt let down that the young winger did not choose Jamaica, Whitmore said not entirely, as whenever a player chooses to represent a country he wants them to be happy with their decision.
"We always want to have good players at our disposal, but I guess that is just life. It is football, and we just have to move on," said Whitmore, whose Boyz defeated the USA 2-1 in Kingston last Friday for a historic first senior team win over their North American rivals.
"I don't believe in forcing someone to do something they don't feel comfortable with. For the national team, any player we bring in we must see that sort of commitment and will to do so," he declared.
Sterling, who grew up in the inner-city community of Maverley, Kingston, and left Jamaica before he was a teenager, will officially become an England player once he makes an official appearance - generally referred to as a cap.
However, if he is named in the England squad for the match today but does not get a cap, he would still technically be eligible to represent Jamaica.
Whitmore, however, is not holding his breath for the latter to occur, and was only prepared to say "the door is always open to any player".
'He's a nightmare'
England captain Steven Gerrard, who plays alongside Raheem Sterling at Liverpool, says he is looking forward to Sterling making his international debut.
"It is great for him to be called up and get a feel for the senior group, because it won't be too long before he becomes a regular. He is that good," Gerrard was quoted in The Guardian yesterday.
"He is a mature 17-year-old. There is nothing flash[y] about him at all. He is a quiet kid. He works hard and listens, and that is the key when you are that age and a good player."
Gerrard added: "He is a breath of fresh air, especially for the older lads, with the pace and excitement he brings. He is a nightmare to mark for defenders."