High speed. Those are the words Raheem Sterling used when asked which statistic he enjoys looking at the most after a game or training session.
It seems appropriate for a player who shone at Euro 2020, scoring decisive goals for his country which would lead to England making their first tournament final since 1966.
After all, who can forget England’s first match at the Euros, just before the hour mark against Croatia when Sterling made that run through the middle, received the ball from Kalvin Phillips in his stride and scored to begin an unforgettable tournament for Gareth Southgate’s side.
Sterling is only 26, but his England career has already spanned almost nine years and in that time he has acquired 70 caps. So what does Sterling remember from his debut in the 4-2 friendly defeat to Sweden on November 14, 2012, at just 17 years of age?
“It was good… and it was bad. Obviously we lost, it was when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored that famous overhead kick,” Sterling told Sky Sports News.
“When you say nine years, I didn’t think it was that long ago…it’s been quite the journey.”
After his debut against Sweden, Sterling waited 16 months until his second appearance on March 5, 2014, when he was named man of the match as England beat Denmark 1-0 in a friendly, and since then he has been a consistent presence in the England squad.
He has tallied up 41 goal involvements (18 goals and 23 assists), with 16 of his goals coming in the second half of his international career. He puts this upturn in form down to one match in particular which turned out to be a defining moment for himself and England – the 3-2 Nations League victory over Spain in Seville in October 2018.
“It was my two goals against Spain. That was the real shift, with the general public and my football for England,” Sterling said.
“When I first went into the England squad, I was there with pure excitement and joy – difficult patches came about like with any profession, but it’s about how you overcome those and I said every time I went there, I went with the mentality to try and do well, no matter what was going on.
“To finally see that come into play is a great feeling.”
Euro 2020 and the will to win
Sterling was one of England’s star players at Euro 2020, scoring against Croatia, Czech Republic and Germany – two of those goals would be the winners in their respective games as England reached the final, which they lost on penalties to Italy at Wembley.
So is there still pride about what the team achieved at the Euros or is there a hint of regret they could not go one step further?
“Bit of both, you still have people saying congratulations or something and it’s like… there’s not much to congratulate as we didn’t win,” Sterling said.
“That’s the great thing within the squad, we’re not happy with doing well and putting on a show for the country, we genuinely wanted to come home with that trophy and that’s the mentality in the squad now.
“It was class we went to the final but we want to win, we want to make history and I think that’s the message since day one when Gareth (Southgate) came in.”
Southgate’s message of unity
Sterling’s experience with England is an interesting tale. When he made his debut in 2012, he was surrounded by the remains of the ‘golden generation’. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, the remnants of an era that was scarred by expectation, experience and perhaps club rivalry.
However, since Southgate arrived in 2016, the message has been clear to bring everyone on the journey with this team, whether it be the fans or the media.
“I feel like when I first went into the camp, it was very much them versus us, the media versus the players,” Sterling said.
“When Gareth came in, he made it very clear what his intentions were, they were to make England challenge on all fronts, make us challenge at Euros and World Cups.
“If we were to do that, we had to change the perception in the media, public and us the players – we all had to be one if we wanted to achieve something with the national team.
“From the moment he [Southgate] came in – he really tried to work on building that relationship with the media and the fans and I think he’s done a fantastic job at doing that.”
The relationship-building Southgate has done since his tenure began has clearly paid dividends, not just based on results on the field but also for the players themselves as well.
“I think the fans are reconnected with the players again and you can see it when you go into the games, the players feel loved,” Sterling added.
“Going into the games, even in the summer, you didn’t feel any pressure. People might say ‘you played every game at Wembley’, but that’s huge pressure as you’re at home and people expect things from you.”
High speed, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker
Sterling has become a vital performer for England in recent years and the Manchester City forward believes constantly reflecting on his stats after matches and training – he receives them from STATSports, the GPS performance data company that supplies the England team – is a contributing factor.
“Playing at the highest level, I feel like the data and analysing the data is how you can improve – whether it’s in the gym or out in the field, I feel it’s really crucial if you’re going to keep that high level of performance,” Sterling said.
“Mine is always high speed,” he added with a smile when asked which stat he looks at the most.
“In our changing room, especially with people like Kyle (Walker) – we always ask honestly, ‘what was our high speeds?’.
“High speeds are something we look at after the game or during the warm-down session.”
Raheem Sterling spoke exclusively to Sky Sports News in his role as an ambassador for GPS performance data company STATSports.