LONDON • Gareth Southgate has attempted to draw a line under the altercation between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez, saying he took ultimate responsibility for the decision to drop the Manchester City forward for England's Euro 2020 qualifier with Montenegro today.
The Three Lions need just a point to secure passage to next summer's tournament and while the absence of one of their key men is unlikely to prove costly against the joint-bottom Group A side, the manner in which the fracas was leaked has left the manager concerned.
The pair had squared off as City were beaten 3-1 at Liverpool on Sunday and after clashing again at St George's Park, England's training ground, Southgate decided on Monday to drop Sterling for the Wembley game - a decision backed by the "entire squad" .
However, the incident has left egg on the face of the former Middlesbrough boss, who has created much of the unity and team spirit inside his camp since taking charge in 2016.
According to The Athletic, Liverpool defender Gomez, who was spotted in training with a scratch under his eye, has been left "deeply shocked", while his club are said to be "angry" with England over their handling of the matter.
While Southgate refused to delve further into what transpired, he insisted on Tuesday night that omitting Sterling was the "right solution for the group".
"I have discussions with all of my staff and the leadership group, but ultimately, I am the manager," he said. "It is not for me to discuss the details of the incident, there is nothing to be gained from that.
"That's a difficult line, you try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won't always get that right but I am the manager."
THE FINAL SAY
You try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won't always get that right but I am the manager.
GARETH SOUTHGATE, on handling player conflicts as the England manager.
Criticising the British media for going to town with the bust-up, with different versions being reported, he added: "There seems to be all sorts of information being passed from so many different areas.
"I have said what needs to be said publicly, but we have to keep as much as we can between ourselves."
Yet, his decision to issue a statement about the incident and not simply sanction Sterling internally was criticised by former England captain Rio Ferdinand.
In a Facebook post, he said: "Gareth has handled being England manager brilliantly - up to this point. However, I feel this incident could have been handled better.
"Keep it behind closed doors and deal with it internally surely?"
But Southgate claimed it was impossible to remain hush-hush over what happened, saying: "When you have made a decision to not select Raheem, it was going to become public. I would rather deal with that now. The decision has been made."
The other players are now keen to move past the drama, with Ben Chilwell saying that it was water under the bridge.
"Joe and Raheem got the chance to talk. Raheem wanted to apologise and Joe wanted to get stuff off his chest as well," the Leicester defender said. "He was apologetic, he said it's not in his nature, which it's not, but we all know as football players emotions can run high. No one's trying to make excuses for him."
The controversy has also not diminished the respect some of England's younger players have for Sterling, who has scored 12 goals in 55 international appearances.
Calling him "an idol to me", Chelsea's 19-year-old winger Callum Hudson-Odoi said: "The position he plays, and what he's doing for club and country, is an amazing thing, which I will try to replicate myself.
"It is an amazing feeling to have someone like him doing what he's doing and being around you every time. I want to keep learning off what he does. He is a nice person to be around, very positive."