Gareth Southgate has welcomed Raheem Sterling becoming a star player for England and hailed the forward’s increasing influence on and off the pitch.
Sterling initially struggled to turn his club form for Manchester City into high-level performances for the Three Lions, regularly facing strong criticism over his performances.
He branded himself “The Hated One” in a post on social media while enduring a difficult time during England’s unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign.
Since then, however, Sterling has grown to play a key role for England with a stunning run of eight goals in his past eight appearances demonstrating his importance for Southgate’s side.
Sterling equalised in Tuesday’s 5-3 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Kosovo and created a further three goals, including providing assists for both of Jadon Sancho’s maiden international goals.
The attacker has also become a social figurehead, drawing praise for speaking out over racism and going viral for his interactions with supporters, with manager Southgate delighted to have a front-row seat to Sterling’s continued rise to superstardom.
“For me, it’s lovely to see the shift in the public opinion of him,” Southgate said of the 24-year-old.
8 – Raheem Sterling has scored eight goals in his last eight appearances for England, with five of those coming in home games. Response. pic.twitter.com/11DR8aPCYn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2019
“That’s still a brave thing to decide that: ‘Right, I’m going to own that space and I’m going to put my own views across’. But those views represent many as well, so I think he’s aware of the power of his voice, but he also doesn’t waste it.
“I think he was very forthright in his social media posts [about racism]. I think he raised everybody’s awareness and made us all think, which was very mature and impressive. And, at the same time, he rose to the challenge with his club, with new signings coming in.
“You know, when you are at a club like that, to keep fighting off the quality of players that he has; and straight away with us, got the goals in Spain – first game after the World Cup for him, really. Croatia away, Spain. I think it was such a huge weight lifted for him, he almost jumped six foot in the stadium, didn’t he?
“So I think from that moment – because he did come home a bit sad after the World Cup, there’s no hiding from that. He didn’t deserve to feel that way, but that’s as he was, so it’s lovely to see the recognition he’s getting and how much extra I think that’s bringing out of him.
“If there are things that he thinks can be better with the mentality of the players or the way that we’ve set the week out, he’ll thoughtfully put ideas across; he doesn’t just sit and complain.
“But then you see his interaction with the players. I noticed, over the last 24 hours especially [prior to facing Kosovo], he spent a lot of time with Jadon, I think that was probably quite a comfort.
“He can pass things on that I can speak [about] as the coach, but there’ll be more depth to that if your fellow winger who has been at the same club as you, and has been through what you’re going to go through can talk to you. I think that’s far more powerful. You can’t quantify what that will have meant for Jadon.”
— England (@England) September 10, 2019
Asked how Sterling will have felt to have been made a scapegoat earlier in his international career, Southgate said: “Difficult for me to say. I can only imagine. Everyone wants to be liked, don’t they?
“Everybody, players give their all. He’s a player that has always given his all… You know how much it means to him, how much he wants to do well.
“So, I think it’s for him to reflect on how he might have felt then and, for me, it’s just lovely to see a young man establishing himself, at the real top table in the game.”
Southgate indicated he also sees an England future for Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, who qualifies to play for Nigeria in addition to the Three Lions.
“Tammy is a young player that we’ve always liked, we know he’ll score goals,” he said. “We felt it was a bit early this time to call him up, but we really can see that he can offer us something moving forward.
“We gave him a cap back in November of 2017. For sure, we need to make certain that he feels that the opportunity is going to be there. I’m pretty sure he does, he knows us well enough.”
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