Criticism of Manchester City and England winger Raheem Sterling is motivated by racism, says former Arsenal striker Ian Wright.
Sterling, 23, has faced frequent media disapproval, most recently for a tattoo of a rifle on his leg but also for purchasing clothes from Primark and buying his mother a house.
He was also criticised over his World Cup performances for England in Russia.
“How many people do you see get the criticism Sterling gets?” Wright said.
“The football criticism is something every player has to deal with, but what he gets I don’t see any other footballer getting,” former England forward Wright added on BBC Radio 5 live’s Monday Night Club.
“They don’t get that stick because for whatever reason they don’t rub up the people in the corridors of power the wrong way. I think there is an agenda against him.
“There is an element of people at high end of the media who want to keep that guy down. Simple.
“When you look at the wave of criticism that he takes, there is a certain amount of racism towards it – what else can it be?
“They are picking on him because of the the background he has come from and they want to keep him down, drag him back down. They don’t want him to continue to be a success.
“People say you are playing the racism card, but you give me a good reason why Raheem Sterling gets the stick he gets for just being a footballer.”
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Sterling received consistently low ratings on the BBC Sport website’s Player Rater tool during the World Cup. His average rating was 4.66 – leaving him above only Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck.
During the tournament in Russia, Sterling wrote a blog post for The Players’ Tribune in which he said he no longer worries about the media “picking on him”.
Ex-Chelsea striker Chris Sutton, also speaking on 5 live, said: “I think the outside stuff did affect his World Cup performances.”
He added: “I don’t understand it because last season for City he really matured into a top player. He was one of the reason why they were so devastating.
“There seems to be an element of people in this country who delight in kicking him and I don’t get it.”