Former England national team defender Ashley Cole believes much of the criticism and abuse Raheem Sterling receives is due to his race.
The former Arsenal and Chelsea star, who now plays for the LA Galaxy, was speaking as part of a documentary, Out of Their Skin, which details the journey of black players in the England national team over the past 40 years.
Cole, now 37, was the first black player to receive 100 caps for the Three Lions, totaling 107 over the course of 14 years.
Sterling meanwhile, appears to be on his way to a similar number, as the 23-year-old winger has already made 47 appearances for England, scoring four goals.
But Sterling’s time has with the Three Lions has not always been rosy, as he has frequently suffered through heavy criticism for both his performances and off-the-field things, such as his choice of tattoo before the 2018 World Cup.
And Cole sees Sterling as having to deal with an increased scrutiny that his team-mates do not, leaving the Galaxy defender to believe race plays a role.
“I don't see it going on with anyone else apart [from] with Raheem,” Cole said. “There's a different agenda to that I feel.
“There's nothing else left apart from his colour. His skin colour.”
Cole himself was no stranger to frosty relationships with the fans at times during his long, successful career with the national team.
In the documentary, Cole discussed repeatedly being booed in a 2008 World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan, despite England easing to a 5-1 victory in the match.
The experience was so negative, Cole entertained thoughts of walking away from the Three Lions permanently.
“I was like, ‘Woah, is that really for me? For giving the ball away?’,” he said. “At the time I thought, ‘I'm done’. Why am I gonna try to give my all to help a country that didn't care? For me, it wasn't football. That's why I wanted to stop.”
However, Cole decided to continue on, ultimately receiving his 100th cap in February 2013.
It is an achievement that the defender is proud of and says is dedicated to every other black player out there, which he hopes proves an inspiration to them going forward.
“I’ve not just played for England,' he said. “I’ve done it for all the black players out there - to prove that they can do it.
“I’ve played 100 caps for England, for my country. Being the first black player, I think, is amazing.
“I’ve represented my country and played in major tournaments. I’ve never let the country down in terms of playing. One hundred caps is No. 1, playing for your country. I miss it to this day.”