Southgate backs Sterling's gun tattoo

Rory Dollard

England manager Gareth Southgate says he has no problem with Raheem Sterling's controversial gun tattoo, but he does have a problem with the Manchester City star being late for the team's World Cup training camp.

The body art on Sterling's right leg has become a national talking point over the past week but, while Southgate understands the concerns of anti-gun campaigners, he says his motivations were personal and non-malicious.

But Southgate says he did have a chat with Sterling after a plane mix-up had him arriving back in the UK for England's training camp 24 hours late.

Sterling had been due to arrive at St George's Park last Tuesday - a day later than the bulk of the squad due to a personal commitment.

But his flight stopped in Miami rather than continuing direct to England, meaning he did not arrive until the following morning.

Sterling phoned ahead to warn of the delay and was invited for a walk by Southgate to discuss the matter further when he arrived.

Details of their conversation are sketchy but Southgate made it clear he demands the highest professional standards.

He says Sterling requested the opportunity to say sorry to the squad for his tardiness.

"He was given off until the Tuesday night and he arrived on the Wednesday morning, so he was late," the manager said.

"There was a mix-up on flights and a connection. In fairness to him he wanted to apologise to the group, explained his commitment to the team, and it's done.

"That was accepted and everybody has moved on."

Whether any additional disciplinary measures were taken remains unclear, with Southgate adding only that the matter was handled internally.

Ahead of Saturday's friendly against Nigeria, Southgate has done his best to put to bed any remaining issues over Sterling's latest tattoo.

The winger lost his father at the age of two following a shooting and alluded in an Instagram post to a "deeper meaning" behind the ink.

"He understands how some people have perceived the tattoo but in my view a tattoo is like any work of art. It's a very individual meaning, the intent is all with the individual and the person," Southgate said.

"What has been clear by his own statement and his own experiences is that he is not someone who supports or wants to promote guns in the way that was perceived at first."