, July 22, 2021

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Raheem Sterling - England's greatest generational talent and so much more

  •   3 min reads
Raheem Sterling England
Raheem Sterling has been one of the best at Euro 2020. John Sibley/EPA.

After a difficult season at club level, Raheem Sterling’s place in the England XI for Euro 2020 was far from certain. For Manchester City, even as Pep Guardiola’s side strolled to another Premier League title, the 26-year-old had been a shadow of his former self. As Euro 2020 approached, many made the argument that Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were all more deserving of a spot in Gareth Southgate’s lineup.

Such takes have aged badly. With England preparing for their first final at an international tournament for 55 years, Sterling is now considered one of the first names on Southgate’s team sheet. With three goals and one assist in six games, he might even be a contender for the Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament award.

England have faced criticism for their conservative approach, with Southgate generally favouring safety and control, but Sterling has been a real spark during Euro 2020. When the Three Lions have struggled to break through in the final third, the City winger has been the one to make something happen.

Southgate has a number of world class attackers to choose from. Indeed, England’s squad is currently stronger than it has been in over a decade - since the 2006 World Cup, when England’s much-hyped ‘Golden Generation’ could only make the quarter-finals. Even since the 2018 World Cup, the improvement in individual quality has been significant.

Phil Foden, a key figure for title-winning Manchester City, is widely seen as a generational talent, as is Sancho, who has made himself into a Bundesliga superstar over the last few years. Grealish is another billed as among the best English soccer has produced in a long time. Then there’s Jude Bellingham, the 18-year-old who could be the Three Lions’ best midfielder for years to come.

All this talk ignores how Sterling was, and still is, England’s greatest generational talent. This is a player who, at the age of just 26, has achieved all there is to achieve in the English club game. He is three-times Premier League title winner who has operated at the elite level of the sport since he broke through at Liverpool as a teenager.

Sterling has been so good for so long that it’s sometimes easy to take his brilliance for granted. Euro 2020, however, has reminded us all of it. Emboldened by his status as a leader in the England dressing room, and trusted by his manager, Sterling has produced something close to his best form.

This isn’t to say Sterling doesn’t frustrate. There are times at which his final product could be sharper. With more composure, Sterling could raise his numbers in front of goal even higher. He has a peculiar habit of converting the more difficult of the opportunities he creates or is presented with.

However, these faults are frequently overblown, often by sections of the media with another agenda to push. Sterling has become more than just one of the best English soccer players of his generation. Now considered a national figurehead, he is the embodiment of a country’s best qualities.

“He is a fighter,” Southgate said after the quarter-final win over Ukraine. “He has got an incredible resilience and hunger. He has developed over the last couple of years this real hunger to score even in the games where the opportunities where the ball has flashed the across the box earlier in the tournament, he has been in between the posts.

"He is finding himself in these areas and yes, his drive is fantastic, we know the journey he has been on with England and I am so happy for him to be able to deliver the performances he has.”

At club level, Sterling’s future is still somewhat uncertain. Transfer speculation continues to swirl around the 26-year-old, with Real Madrid reportedly interested in signing him from Manchester City, where he has become a peripheral figure, this summer. His performances at Euro 2020 will have only pushed his stock higher.

For England, though, Sterling has never been more secure in his standing. The relationship between Southgate and the winger was clear in the celebrations after the semi-final win over Denmark - while the rest of the England team saluted the crowd of jubilant fans at Wembley, the pair were in a warm embrace. Southgate knows what he has in Sterling even if others haven’t been so convinced in the past.

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