‘I love critics saying I’m not good enough… it drives me’: Raheem Sterling has spent the last decade with England proving people wrong with the ‘Hated One’ now one of Gareth Southgate’s key men in Qatar
- Raheem Sterling has now been on the international scene for 10 years
- Sterling has 79 caps and has been a key player for manager Gareth Southgate
- His England career didn’t get off to a great start but he’s now established player
Think back to England’s friendly in Stockholm a decade ago this week, and only one thing stands out: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s incredible overhead kick as he scored all Sweden’s goals in a 4-2 victory.
Not many people will recall Steven Gerrard winning his 100th cap for England. Even fewer will remember Raheem Sterling’s debut.
It is easy to forget that Sterling has been on the international scene for 10 years. The raw teenager who was given his break by Roy Hodgson at the Friends Arena that night flew to Qatar with England’s World Cup squad this week as an established senior player for his country.
England star Raheem Sterling has now been on the international scene for 10 years
While the other rookies who made their debuts against the Swedes in an experimental England team — Wilfried Zaha, Leon Osman, Steven Caulker, Ryan Shawcross and Carl Jenkinson — fell by the wayside, Sterling has 79 caps. A player who only turns 28 next month could easily join Gerrard in the 100 club.
It has not been plain sailing for the Londoner, who grew up in the shadow of Wembley and remembers watching the World Cup on a big TV wheeled into the classroom at Copland Community School.
Sterling did not enjoy his first few England camps and relied on Gerrard and another Liverpool team-mate, Daniel Sturridge, to put a protective arm around his shoulder. The 2014 World Cup was a disappointment but that was nothing compared to the Euros two years later when Sterling labelled himself the Hated One on social media after he was blamed for England’s failures.
Sterling’s England career didn’t get off to the best start but he’s now a key player
He is the kind of character who has always used adversity to make himself stronger. Like the criticism he faced from Liverpool fans for giving a TV interview to explain why he had rejected a new contract before joining Manchester City in 2015. Or the lack of playing time that left him ‘fuming and raging’ towards the end of his spell at City, and a difficult start this season at Chelsea after moving to Stamford Bridge for £50million.
‘What’s made me the person I am today is all the setbacks I’ve had, all the “can’ts” — you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re not good enough. Those sort of things always drive me,’ said Sterling on Thursday.
Throughout it all, England has become a safe space for Sterling and one in which he has increasingly prospered, scoring 19 goals for his country so far.
There is no doubt he benefitted from Southgate getting the England job, having worked with him in the age-group teams. He has become one of the first names on the team sheet in a position where England have fierce competition.
The Chelsea forward loves to prove critics wrong and is hoping to do so again in Qatar
If there was a turning point in his international career, it came in Seville four years ago when England won away to Spain for the first time in 31 years and Sterling ended a 27-game barren run by scoring twice in a 3-2 Nations League victory.
He played an important role as Southgate’s side reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, and was England’s standout player when they reached the final of Euro 2020 last year.
If they are to go one better in Qatar over the next few weeks, England need Sterling firing on all cylinders again.
One thing that has helped him through the recent ups and downs is meditation. Sterling tried it for the first time at England’s base during the Euros last year following a frustrating season at City, first in the bath of his hotel room and then on the floor.
Now he practises it regularly with his partner Paige and their children, and is even the ambassador for a meditation app.
‘It’s something I do every day,’ said Sterling. ‘I focus on my breathing and concentrate on getting to a space where it’s quiet. The more I don’t think about the game and go about my everyday life, the better.’
It is not the only psychological aspect to Sterling’s preparation. Like many players, he has his superstitions. ‘If I score, I’ll try to wear the same trainers with my tracksuit to the next game. If I don’t score it’s going back in the closet!’ he smiled.
A decade on from his debut, Sterling is still going strong. He has been a senior international for three more years than Harry Kane, and captained his country in the Tottenham striker’s absence.
The boy from Wembley is one of England’s main men.
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