Gareth Southgate believes Raheem Sterling faces a constant battle to be considered an A-list performer despite his stellar form for England over the past three years.
Sterling made the difference in Thursday’s 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Hungary in Budapest, scoring the first and assisting Harry Kane for the second, on a night when he had monkey chants directed at him from the stands. He was also part of the group of players who had plastic cups thrown at them in the celebrations that followed his goal.
Sterling has endured a drop in status at Manchester City. From 10 March to the end of last season he lost his place as a regular and missed out on starting some big games, although not the biggest – the Champions League defeat against Chelsea.
So far this season he has started one of the club’s three Premier League matches, with a note of intrigue being that the British record £100m signing of his England teammate Jack Grealish has directly affected his opportunities. Grealish has started City’s past two games on the left of the front three, arguably Sterling’s best position, with Pep Guardiola using the latter as a substitute. City have another England wide attacker, Phil Foden, to come back from injury.
With England, Sterling is one of the first names on Southgate’s team sheet and he continues to deliver. He was the standout performer on the run to the final of Euro 2020 over the summer and has scored 16 times in his past 24 international appearances.
Against Hungary, Southgate used him on the right, with Grealish on the opposite flank.
Southgate was asked whether Sterling had channelled his frustration at City into positive displays for his country. “I don’t know, you’d have to speak to him about that but I’ve got a very good relationship with him,” the manager replied. “He knows what we think of him, he’s very comfortable in our environment.
“There’s incredible competition for places at Manchester City as well as here but for us he has just been consistently a player who has delivered in matches and we have had complete faith in him.
“I do think he doesn’t really get the recognition he deserves. He often goes under the radar and almost seems to have to continually prove himself. I was asked about that in the summer so let’s keep hoping he has to keep proving himself in the way he did again against Hungary.”
Southgate will make sweeping changes to his lineup for Sunday’s home qualifier against Andorra, which will be England’s first game at Wembley since the Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy. He is mindful of early season fitness issues and the fact that England face Poland in Warsaw next Wednesday.
“To be able to rotate and use the depth in the squad is very important,” Southgate said. “Absolutely we will make a lot of changes.”