Gary Neville has revealed Raheem Sterling approached him during Euro 2016 after receiving ‘vicious’ criticism from fans.
The Sky Sports pundit, who was assistant coach to Roy Hodgson at the time, suggested there is a personal agenda against Sterling.
The Manchester City forward was the victim of alleged racial abuse during the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Saturday and called out the British press for ‘fuelling racism’ in the English game.
Speaking on Monday Night Football, Neville said: “He came to see me one-on-one in 2016, I think it was three or four days before the Iceland game.
“Before the tournament, he was getting so much stick. We were aware of that as a coaching staff, that fans were onto him, media were onto him.
“It then continued into the stadium, to the point where there were groans and boos. It takes a lot for a player to see the coaches. He walked in and just started to down-load on me, ‘why was this happening? Why was this so personal?’
“He accepted that he would get criticism playing for England, he accepted he would get scrutinised as an England player, he didn’t want any special treatment.
“But it was so vicious, he felt so targeted, he didn’t know what to do about it. I saw someone who has a great mentality and is tough but a level of vulnerability.
“It is a really difficult situation. He is a tough lad, a tough cookie, to come through the scrutiny he’s come through like he has done is a miracle almost.”
Chelsea have suspended four people from attending matches over their alleged behaviour towards Sterling during Saturday’s game.
The former Manchester United and England right-back also highlighted Ashley Cole, who was the subject of much media criticism during his prime years.
“It’s not undertones, it’s blatant. I was trying to think if anything happened when I played for England and the lad I used to sit next to for 10 years was Ashley Cole,” he added.
“He’s had to escape this country, almost like a football refugee. Seeking asylum in MLS to get away from it, the way he’s been treated.
“Over the last few days, I’ve heard, ‘Well Gazza got stick and David Beckham got stick and Wayne Rooney got stick’, and I lived closely to two of them lads and it was horrific. The vilification they got when it was bad or made mistakes.
“But when it was good for them, they were hero-worshipped. When it’s good for Ashley Cole or Raheem Sterling, they can’t get the hero worship.”