Redemption is in the air in football, if not in politics

England fans celebrate their side's first goal of the game, scored by England's Raheem Sterling duri

England's football heroes are forging their reputations, while politicians are tarnishing theirs - Credit: PA

Normally England beating Germany in a major international football tournament would be all that anyone is talking about.

It’s the ultimate tale of redemption. Getting one over on the Germans for the first time in more than 50 years and going some way towards salvaging England’s reputation as a modern footballing nation.

I say normally, because the game came just a few days after one of the biggest political bombshells of the past few decades.

On Friday, The Sun newspaper published pictures of West Suffolk MP, and now former health secretary, Matt Hancock entangled with government funded aide Gina Coladangleo.

On Saturday, Hancock rightly resigned his post at the helm of the government’s battle against coronavirus.

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A “significant mistake”, is how one of his neighbouring MPs described the incident.

Another said: “It’s difficult in the heat of the moment to appreciate what someone has done.

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“But, he has been health secretary during one of the most challenging periods in our country’s history.

“And he’s helped to deliver a vaccination programme which has been world beating. And I hope that is the legacy he will leave.”

This is, perhaps, optimistic. 

What is, I think, more likely is that he will forever be the politician who snogged an advisor against his office door.

And that is because, in our minds we forge the reputations of those in the public eye on the small slivers of their lives that we see and remember.

Despite Hancock being an almost ever-present on our TV screens over the past year and a bit, none of those appearances have been as memorable as this one.

A man who knows something about this is England manager Gareth Southgate.

Despite playing more than 500 games of professional football, being an England international for more than a decade and now the national team’s coach, up until this point Southgate was remembered for just one thing: missing a penalty in the semi-final of Euro ‘96 against Germany, putting England out of the tournament.

The redemption arc is obvious. 

Having come up just short as a player – through no fault of his own – he has now remade himself as an excellent manager.

Also, playing a key role and scoring in the England victory against Germany was winger Raheem Sterling.

So far this tournament, Sterling has scored three goals in four games.

Still just 26, Sterling is now vice-captain and somewhat of an elder statesmen in this England squad.

But back in 2016, Sterling was the subject of The Sun’s front page — headlined ‘Obscene Raheem’ — for having the cheek to buy his mother a nice house in the wake of England’s ignominious Euro 2016 exit against Iceland.

Now, almost exactly five years on from that unflattering front page, the same paper chose to put Sterling on the front again.

This time, though, it was with the kinder headline ‘55 years of hurt never stopped us Raheeming!’.

When asked about the performances of Sterling and Harry Kane, manager Gareth Southgate started to say “Raheem constantly has to prove people wrong”, before stopping to also include Kane.

He is right that Kane has also come in for his share of criticism for his performances on the pitch, but it’s nothing compared to how Sterling has been treated.

The flack Sterling has taken in the past has never been justified. He was, and is, an extraordinarily talented young man who has not always lived up to the public and press’s sky high expectations for England footballers.

Even to a journalist, Sterling’s treatment has been disproportionately negative. And it is difficult to imagine a white footballer in his position having their reputation tarnished by the press to such an extent.

Despite this, he has redeemed his reputation with exemplary on-pitch performances and being an outspoken critic of how black people in the public eye are treated.

Every inch of column space spent on Hancock has been deserved. His tenure as health secretary has, undoubtedly, been nigh on impossible but at the end of the day he has engineered his own demise.

And in doing so has called into question his conduct along the way.

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