Raheem Sterling is still not getting the plaudits he deserves despite his vital goals for England at Euro 2020

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·4-min read
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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

We have talked about a lot of England players at these Euros: the misfiring Harry Kane and his proposed £150million move away from Tottenham; not one but two new Gazzas in Phil Foden and Jack Grealish; Arsenal wonderkid Bukayo Saka; Kalvin Phillips, the 

Yorkshire Pirlo; four right-backs; a right-back playing left-back and a back-to-full-fitness Harry Maguire.

One player whose contribution has been largely overlooked is the man who has been England catalyst, match-winner and outstanding performer en route to the quarter-finals, Raheem Sterling.

No news is generally good news as far as the 26-year-old is concerned, after struggling to find love wearing his country’s shirt, so often the fall guy, the scapegoat.

If Kane thinks his three-game barren run at the start of the tournament was scrutinised, it pales in comparison to what Sterling would have endured if he had produced such toothless displays; just as he did at the last Euros, when Pep Guardiola personally reached out to him to offer words of encouragement before even commencing his first season in charge at the Etihad.

The state of that relationship now is in question, with Sterling dropped at club level and a cloud hanging over his future. That was the backdrop against which Sterling headed into these finals. His inclusion in City’s starting XI for the Champions League Final was greeted with genuine surprise by fans and listed as one of a number of baffling decisions by Guardiola that led to defeat to Chelsea in Porto in May.

Watch: Raheem Sterling - From family tragedy and newspaper controversies to leading England's hopes at Euro 2020

His place in the England team was also in doubt to just about everyone but Gareth Southgate, who has made him one of his undroppables, along with Kane, Maguire and Jordan Pickford. Never mind the emergence of Foden, Grealish, Saka and Jadon Sancho, it is a case of Kane, Sterling and another as far as the England boss is concerned.

And how his faith has been repaid by a player who has shaken off the baggage of an underwhelming campaign and made these Euros his own.

Sterling’s goals against Croatia and the Czech Republic earned England top spot in Group D. His strike against Germany on Tuesday set the Three Lions on course for an historic win at Wembley and a place in the last eight. But it has not only been about those decisive, match-winning moments — Sterling’s contribution has been about more than goals.

Be it his burst against Croatia before playing in Foden to hit the post, or his cutback to Mason Mount that should have provided the winner against Scotland, Sterling has not only been England’s most potent force, but their most creative one, too.

He still can frustrate — running down blind alleys or getting his technique wrong in front of goal — but it is easy to see why he holds Southgate’s trust.

Sterling creates dynamic moments. Against Germany, he was the player to drag Joachim Low’s well-drilled team out of shape.

 (PA)
(PA)

Sterling’s influence never waned. His runs from deep to the edge of the area forced German players to abandon their posts. It happened on the stroke of half-time, when their desperation to stop one of his charges saw the ball ricochet to Kane with the goal at his mercy, only for the England captain to waste a golden opportunity.

The problem for Sterling was that too often there were not enough players in support to offer him the outlet to exploit the space his runs had made.

By the time Grealish came on, that was no longer the case.

When charging towards the German goal after 75 minutes, this time he did have support — first Kane, then Grealish, then Luke Shaw — an overload that gave Sterling the opportunity to dart towards the six-yard box to convert Shaw’s cross. It was a brilliant team goal, but only made possible by Sterling breaking the lines with his earlier run.

It was the type of history-making moment Southgate had challenged his players to produce, and while it sent Wembley wild, it is hoped its architect is not forgotten.

Grealish’s game-changing introduction has been celebrated, and the calls for him to start against Ukraine will grow louder by the day. Shaw’s own redemption after returning from the wilderness has also rightly been noted, while it is hoped a long-awaited goal from Kane can open the floodgates. Maguire’s leadership at the back earned him man of the match, while Pickford is England’s new ‘safe hands’.

Sterling, meanwhile, continues to operate under the radar, despite establishing himself as England’s principle danger man.

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