No player is more divisive than Raheem Sterling. Listen to anyone at the Etihad and they’ll tell you Manchester City own a world class talent. They won’t hear a word against him.
England fans, before Monday night in Seville, have always asked exactly what all the fuss was about.
The perpetual debate has been put to bed, for now at least. Understandably, England supporters wonder, or wondered, what the problem is with the country’s white shirt when every week last season he dazzled in the champions’ light blue.
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Endeavour internationally, sure. But end product was always badly lacked. While it was obvious England were not carrying the 23-year-old at any point in Russia, his three-years without a goal while knocking them in every week in the Premier League was objectionable and, to many, totally unacceptable.
Going into your shell for your country while running rings around everyone back home won’t curry favour. Few at the World Cup knew why this explosive talent didn’t spark. Now we do, and now we know what makes him perform and it feels like England have discovered an untapped talent.
At no point while staring daggers at Sterling in June and July were fingers pointed at his manager.
Not while England were shining in the summer. Certainly not when the other ten Lions were doing their jobs.
AS IT HAPPENED: England 3 Spain 2
It would take a brave person to question Gareth Southgate, even more so thanks to the return of the feel good factor since Monday night.
But the fact is his formation which was so successful in Russia stunted one of his biggest talents.
Playing 3-5-2 meant Sterling was hung out to dry. Having perfected playing wide of an attacking three at club level, he had to learn a new role. Alongside Harry Kane in a front two, he was isolated, frustrated and a totally different player. Play him a three or you may as well not play him at all.
A good manager knows how to adapt. Southgate clearly assessed the issues of the summer. Sterling was one, and Kyle Walker, shunted in as a third centre-half, was the other while he tried to understand how the side can be more creative.
It’s all very simple. If you play Sterling where he shines for City, flanking a good-on-the-ball centre-forward then he will produce what he does in the Premier League.
Now England essentially have a new player. With all-but one of Monday’s starting side 25 or under and with some serious talent coming through, it’s hard to remember a more exciting time in recent years.