Liverpool, September 29: Raheem Sterling defended Bernardo Silva after the Portugal star came under fire for a racially insensitive tweet he sent to Manchester City team-mate Benjamin Mendy.
Silva tweeted – and subsequently deleted – a picture of a young Mendy and a dated image used by Spanish confectionary brand Conguitos alongside the caption "Guess who".
The caricature has been condemned for having racist connotations, though Mendy – a close friend of Silva's – expressed amusement at the post.
Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out and others condemned the tweet, which the Football Association (FA) is investigating Silva for, but Pep Guardiola staunchly backed his player in a news conference on Friday.
Guardiola said Silva was "absolutely not guilty" and Sterling has also leapt to the midfielder's defence following Saturday's 3-1 win at Everton.
"It's a situation no one needs at this moment in time," Sterling said to Sky Sports after scoring his 100th club goal in the victory.
"It's between two friends as everyone knows. I can see exactly why some people can get touchy on it, but in that situation Bernardo made a joke to his friend.
Can’t even joke with a friend these days... You guys...— Bernardo Silva (@BernardoCSilva) September 22, 2019
"He's not referred to his skin colour, he's not referred to his lips. Both pictures, they've both got small heads. He didn't refer to a colour. Benjamin knows, he's proud to be black. We know he hasn't referred to his colour.
"It's sad to see Bernardo be really down about it, because he's not that way inclined. They're two really good friends. It's really sad to see.
"I can understand where the criticism has come from, but I don't feel there was any intention of trying to be racist and it's not because it's my team-mates, it's just the way I view it. I don't feel there is any racism in it, but I can see where people have come from.
"Bernardo is deeply sorry about it. He's not in the wrong, for me, but I can see where people think it's wrong. We have to be smart on social media, we understand anything you say or do can be judged and it's just a really sad situation."
Asked his view on how City have handled the issue, Sterling added: "The club, I always believed, would handle the situation right.
"The sooner the FA realise that there was no discrimination the better. At not one moment did he use a negative term about his skin colour. He tried to make a joke and it wasn't the best, but we've got to move on."