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07 December 2023

Sterling relishes World Cup stage as England's number 10

Photo: AFP


Fresh from the best season of his career, Raheem Sterling has been handed the responsibility and role he craved by England manager Gareth Southgate to deliver on his abundant potential at the World Cup.

Sterling scored 23 goals in all competitions as Manchester City romped to the Premier League title in record-breaking fashion and lifted the League Cup.

Yet in keeping with his career so far, there was still a feeling that more is to come if his finishing can match the quality of his skill and movement.

"The moment he is going to be able to increase (the number) of goals he will become one of the best players in the world because he has everything," said City boss Pep Guardiola. "He is a fighter, he is dynamic, he's so good, but he has to improve that."

To prove the point, Sterling hasn't scored in his last 20 games for England, stretching back to 2015.

Sterling has also had to cope with consistent negative publicity from some sections of the English press, often for issues far removed from football.

Treated as a scapegoat during a series of poor England performances before a humiliating exit to Iceland in the last 16 of Euro 2016, Sterling dubbed himself "The Hated One" on Instagram during the tournament.

He most recently hit the headlines last week for a tattoo of an M16 assault rifle on his leg.

Sterling's route to the top hasn't been easy. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he said the gun tattoo is a tribute to his dad who was murdered there when he was just two.

Sterling moved to North London at the age of five with his mother, and his abundant talent on the football field soon became recognised as he was snapped up by Queen's Park Rangers and then Liverpool as a 15-year-old.

Number 10 tattoo

He shot to fame as part of a free-flowing Liverpool side that just missed out on a first league title for over two decades in 2013/14 to force his way into England's World Cup team four years ago, and was one of few bright sparks in a group stage exit.

A £49 million move to Manchester City followed in 2015, but it wasn't until Guardiola's arrival as coach a year later that Sterling started to deliver on his potential.

Unlike at City, where Guardiola still largely utilises Sterling's pace on the wing, Southgate has handed him the number 10 shirt to create from a central role just off England's talisman Harry Kane.

"I know I shouldn't mention it but I've got a tattoo of it on my arm!" he said this week of the No.10 after some unwanted attention for tattoos. "It's something I've always wanted to do: wear the number 10 for England.

"I feel, because I'm really fast, that's one of the reasons I've been put out there (on the wing), and now I'm closer to the goal and the area I want to be."

Sterling scored some of the most important goals of City's title triumph, notching late winners early on in the season to beat Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Southampton.

"I think you've seen a guy who has stood up and made himself available in the big games," said Sterling's City and England team-mate Fabian Delph.

"In terms of being dedicated, he's one of the most dedicated footballers I've come across. His work ethic is fantastic, his desire to improve is there and he's still on 23.

"It's scary to think what his potential could be and I'm constantly on his case to do better as an older player should be.

"I think this World Cup is a massive stage for him to go and showcase what he can do."