On the back of the England star's ankle was the trademark image of TruSox, the £25 high-tech socks worn by football's elite that Fifa will fine anyone £50,000 for wearing.
That was the charge given to the FA during the World Cup after Sterling, Dele Alli and Eric Dier cut up their official kit to wear Jim Cherneski's gear that prevents feet slipping in boots.
TruSox founder and CEO Cherneski believes football's world governing body is being pushed to act – and it's been going on for a while.
In April, a letter from Fifa arrived at the company's Maryland headquarters warning them about the upcoming World Cup.
“We had maybe just above 80 per cent of players wearing TruSox in Russia, and that was under intense pressure from the big brands to fine them,” the 44-year-old devout Christian told SunSport.
“We got a letter from Fifa. It was no doubt prompted from the big brands — I’ll just call it what it is, adidas.
“It was saying you’ve been identified as a guerrilla marketer and you’re on the radar.
“I think they were operating outside the bounds of the rules by doing that because there is no rule saying a player cannot wear this shoe or this shoe, or that sock or that sock.”
The English Football Association was fined £50,000 for “display[ing] unauthorised commercial branding” after Sterling, Alli and Dier wore them in the quarter-final.
FIFA SOCK IT TO 'EM
FIFA's drive against "ambush marketing" cost England £53,000 for players wearing TruSox at the World Cup.
It is understood a complaint by adidas, long-standing partners of the world governing body, brought the Russian crackdown.
The FA and other national associations were warned about their players wearing the brand, with its distinctive markings, rather than official kit during training sessions and matches.
Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli all ignored the warnings and wore the socks in the quarter-final win over Sweden.
While Fifa are sticklers for kit rules, Uefa are more relaxed about the issue.
The European body, though, could intervene and that might see another fine levied against the FA.
Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist was fined the same amount for wearing them. The issue Fifa had was that TruSox’s trademark rectangles were on show up the back of the socks.
Yet most of the time it goes unseen. Players “customise” the socks, cutting them at the bottom and sewing to clubs socks so as to have the benefit but not lose their endorsement.
Barcelona and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez is the only player paid to wear them, but stars like Gareth Bale, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have worn TruSox despite pressure from big-name brands.
Players are unable to publicly admit to wearing the £25-a-pair socks and have been issued with warnings from brands like adidas.
“It’s great because Adidas and Nike intended for evil, God intended for good,” Cherneski said.
“The more they pushed, the more publicity we got. The thing is, it’s a good product.
“They can try negative tactics of fining but players know – especially the big-name players – that their performance is more important than relationships with brands.”
Nike and adidas were approached by SunSport for comment.
The first Premier League player to benefit from TruSox was Victor Moses after Cherneski had sent the then Wigan winger a pair in 2010.
That was three years after the father-of-two had began his project, having been challenged by his wife to resolve his boot problem, and a year after filing a patent.
“People don’t necessarily articulate it well,” he explained. “They say you have to buy boots small, but my argument to that is you don’t want your foot swimming around in your shoes.
“I despised the movement in my shoes. I would take forever to get my boots on before training because I would use sticky spray and spray it on both sides of my socks.
“But that stuff doesn’t work because if you get sweaty it turns goopy, so I was constantly looking for a solution. Turns out, many other players feel the same way.”
The journey was a long one. Cherneski upped the work on TruSox as Crystal Palace went into administration in 2010 which saw the Baltimore affiliate cut off.
Cherneski and his young family lived off a £40,000 investment in TruSox while he spent each night in the basement of their home adapting and perfecting the product.
Cherneski flew down to Alabama to create the first prototype. “I found a hosiery mill that would entertain my crazy thoughts,” he said.
After adapting and perfecting the yarn, Cherneski had what he wanted. He took it back to Baltimore and his teammates loved them, which was when he reached out to Moses.
After Moses’ approval, word began to spread. The 2014 World Cup was a launchpad for TruSox and now Cherneski estimates that between 20 and 30 per cent of Prem players wear them each week.
Yet it’s not easy getting to them.
“All the security guards are waiting at the door of Premier League clubs to see a TruSox guy come through the door to kick him out,” Cherneski says.
“Now it’s about meeting with players at cafes and homes.”
On the morning of this interview, a Manchester United player visited Cherneski’s home in Altrincham to collect some more equipment.
That was one of the challenges TruSox and Cherneski have encountered as they’ve grown. Another was copycats.
“All the fakes have come into the market now,” he says.
“It’s more than we can count. We have patents, quite a few patents, and we have companies ripping off our product all around the world.
“I think it did have an impact on our sales in 2017 but players go to these fakes – many of which are entrenching on our IP – but they’re realising they’re not as good and coming back.”
And the big brands may be troubled to hear news of TruSox preparing to unveil football boots.
“We made shoes worn in the Super Bowl. They were worn in an entire baseball season by Miguel Cabrera,” Cherneski says.
“And football boots with a patented technology that works in conjunction with the socks and we’re excited to release that in the not too distant future.”
Then players will really have a decision to make.
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