CHANTILLY • Raheem Sterling's mood has been lifted after being told that he is a "big part" of Pep Guardiola's plans by the new Manchester City manager.
The forward received the boost from the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona coach, after being subjected to relentless criticism from England fans for his insipid performances in the Euro 2016 games against Russia and Wales.
The 21-year-old responded by posting a message on social media in which he appeared to describe himself as "the hated one" and is not expected to start in the round-of-16 match against Iceland in Nice tomorrow.
However, Guardiola phoned him after the 2-1 win over Wales and said: "As long as you work for me, I'll fight for you.
"Keep your head up, don't worry, I know you're a good player and you're a big part of my plans."
The Spaniard has only just joined City from Bayern, but is understood to have been instrumental in recruiting Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, who moved to the club for a combined £105 million (S$194 million) last summer.
Both fit Guardiola's desire for quick, young players who will press high up the field.
While England manager Roy Hodgson has insisted Sterling has been "bright as a button in training", there have been concerns among England's management about the player's deterioration in form and whether his self-belief might have been damaged by the criticism he attracts.
Hodgson's assistant, Ray Lewington, said this week that he and the England manager were concerned at supporters demonising Sterling.
"It's not nice to see him being booed," Lewington said.
"Young players suffer for confidence, and in the second game (against Wales) he looked as if he was slightly nervy and was not doing things he was doing in the first game (against Russia).
"But we have a lot of time for him, he's a lovely kid. He's actually quite shy and we all love him because he never gives anything less than 100 per cent.
"So we're going to try and look after him and try to ease him back, not rush him because we know there's a really good player there."
Hodgson is expected to recall Harry Kane as England's main striker tomorrow, with Daniel Sturridge likely to play instead of Sterling in the starting line-up.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN