LONDON • Despite a "money grabber" reputation that was borne out of the way he engineered his acrimonious transfer from Liverpool to Manchester City in 2015, Raheem Sterling has since emerged as one of football's good guys.
Off the pitch, the England forward is increasingly being known for his charity work with organisations like Football Beyond Borders and supporting movements to help victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, while using his considerable social media presence to help the underprivileged.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old further burnished his altruistic credentials after buying 550 tickets for students of his former school, Copland Community, to catch City's FA Cup semi-final against Brighton at Wembley today.
Having spent his formative years in the vicinity of Wembley after moving from Jamaica at the age of five, Sterling, who also met the students the same day, said it represented "a great opportunity to give back to the community that helped me get to where I am".
He added: "I grew up right next door to the stadium and would dream of one day playing in a Cup final or even representing my country there. To now be able to play there myself is an honour.
ARCH IN SIGHT
When I was young, it was usual to see the final of the FA Cup over the Premier League games, the tradition at old Wembley. It will be nice for me, personally, and the players as well.
PEP GUARDIOLA, Manchester City manager, on the semi-final clash against Brighton at Wembley today.
"It is great to be able to give these students the chance to watch a game at Wembley."
Rebecca Curtis, the principal of his former school, now known as Ark Elvin Academy, was blown away by his gesture.
She said: "To know he still thinks about the community he came from despite how his life has changed is really powerful for us.
"The vast majority of our pupils have never been inside Wembley, let alone seen such a big game with one of our old boys playing."
So it puzzles City manager Pep Guardiola when Sterling, who was allegedly the subject of racist abuse earlier in the season at Chelsea and when England played Montenegro away in their Euro 2020 qualifier during the recent international break, continues to draw flak.
Calling it an "incredible gesture", he said at his pre-match press conference yesterday: "This makes a better society for everyone. Football players are human beings, we live all together and these kind of gestures dignify who he is."
Turning his attention towards the Seagulls, the Spaniard admitted that while City "are still young in terms of a lot of titles", he had set his team, who are still on course for the quadruple, "the target to win and be better".
He told reporters: "When I was young, it was usual to see the final of the FA Cup over the Premier League games, the tradition at old Wembley. It will be nice for me, personally, and the players as well. A challenge to get another (trophy) and we will try."
The 48-year-old also revealed mixed news over his likely first XI selection against Chris Hughton's men after confirming defender Oleksandr Zinchenko would be out for "10 to 12 days".
However, there was a better outcome for Guardiola in the striking department after Sergio Aguero, the league's top scorer on 19 goals, was passed "almost fit and will travel".
He also hinted that Benjamin Mendy could make only his second City appearance since undergoing meniscus surgery last November, as "he has been training for a week".
MAN CITY V BRIGHTON
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