As Gareth Southgate announced his World Cup squad who will be boarding to Russia, there is little doubt that many England supporters are pinning their hopes on a certain Harry Kane.
Throughout the season, though, there has been considerable speculation on the growing potential of Premier League winner, Raheem Sterling. Currently best known for that goal he didn’t score against Italy, Sterling will be keen to make his next memorable moment a better one. Pundits have often spoke about the growing influence he is having on a team full of superstars. The ability to reach ‘another level’ has been the term repeatedly used regarding the exciting winger.
Just as supporters began to fear that Sterling would perhaps follow a similar fate to Theo Walcott, Pep Guardiola seems to have put him well on track to reach his much-anticipated potential.
This season, Sterling recorded 18 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, and a further five goals and one assist in all other competitions—making this his most successful season by a considerable margin. Guardiola himself, though, admitted that the player has a lot further to go yet.
Despite his successes this season, there is some doubt as to whether or not Sterling can be bracketed as a ‘top class’ footballer. In order for him to achieve this status, the attacker may have to replicate his league achievements in Russia. If Sterling starts from where he left off this season, there should be little doubt of his ability.
His biggest criticism, throughout his entire career, is that his finishing is insufficient and that most of his goals have come from simple opportunities. Sterling scoring from four yards out doesn’t make him a bad player, but instead a more aware player with the intelligence to place himself in dangerous areas of the pitch.
It is no secret that England do not possess the same midfield qualities as Manchester City have at their disposal. It remains to be seen whether the Englishman can become a regular difference maker or not without the prowess of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.
We have seen it with many international sides: Ronaldo carried Portugal to the 2016 Euro final; Gareth Bale carried Wales to the semi-final of the same competition; Messi took Argentina to the final of the 2014 World Cup; and finally, more recently, Mohamed Salah earned Egypt a spot in this year’s World Cup.
If England were to make it past the quarter-finals and Sterling were able to record five or more goals, it would certainly be time to start taking the Manchester City man very, very seriously. It has been reported that Southgate and Guardiola are in regular contact which could just, ever so slightly, make a difference for England in this years World Cup.
Paradoxically, one must remember that Sterling is still relatively young. At just 23 years of age, the winger may not peak until the next World Cup at the age of 27, as most players do. Confidence springs with age and experience; Sterling’s composure in front of goal is something that time will only enhance. This is not a make or break tournament for Sterling but a chance to showcase how good he really is right now.