Gareth Southgate is happy for people to keep questioning Raheem Sterling as his “fighter” continues to answer his critics with goals for England at Euro 2020.
The Manchester City forward scored his third goal of the tournament as he put England ahead in their 2-0 last-16 win over Germany on Tuesday evening.
Sterling had hit the winners against both Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage but despite scoring 15 goals in his past 20 international appearances, has seen his place in Southgate’s side called into question with the emergence of new talent in his position.
But Southgate’s faith in the 26-year-old continues to be rewarded and he was full of praise for Sterling after the Germany victory.
“He is a fighter,” Southgate said when asked about Sterling’s ability to handle the criticism.
“He has got an incredible resilience and hunger. He has developed over the last couple of years this real hunger to score, even in the games where the opportunities where the ball has flashed across the box earlier in the tournament, he has been in between the posts.
“He is finding himself in these areas and yes, his drive is fantastic, we know the journey he has been on with England and I am so happy for him to be able to deliver the performances he has.
“To deliver them at Wembley will have been really special for him and, as you said, the goals return is incredible.
“Absolutely incredible, really, but yes, please keep asking the questions because if we cannot motivate him everyone else will certainly be able to!”
While Sterling is enjoying a great spell with England, he struggled for goals earlier in his international career – scoring just two in his first 45 games.
He divided the opinion of England fans, especially during a run of 27 games without a goal which also encompassed the 2018 World Cup, but Southgate saw a change in Sterling after getting back from the tournament in Russia.
“He was probably only one of the players to come back from the World Cup with a different feeling and I talked to him at length about that,” Southgate said.
“I think Seville (a 3-2 Nations League win against Spain where Sterling scored twice) was a real lift-off moment for him. You could almost see it.
“He almost jumped into the second tier of the stadium if you look at the celebration that night of his goal.
“I really feel this was a significant moment for him and, of course, he had been scoring for his club but had not been able to translate that across.
“Now I think he feels happy in our environment, feels he can be himself, knows the respect we have for him and yes, his performance in every game this tournament, he has been a huge threat for every opponent.”
‘Germany win a perfect day for Kane’
As Sterling continued his fine scoring run at Euro 2020, England captain Harry Kane ended his duck at the tournament as he added the second against Germany.
Southgate’s side now travel to Rome to face Ukraine in the quarter-finals on Saturday and he believes Kane’s return to form can only be good for the nation – likening his run to that of Alan Shearer, who went two years without an England goal before ending his barren run against Switzerland at Euro 96.
“I played with Alan at Euro 96 and [saw] the change in him once he got that goal,” Southgate added.
“We know with Harry and Raheem their goalscoring record with us has been immense and so important. We cannot just expect Harry to be the one to deliver so Raheem has weighed in at a crucial moment and is looking electric, but if we can get Harry scoring as well that is great for us as a team.
“There is a huge expectation and although at times it would feel from the outside it is a glamorous position to be in and they certainly get paid well, it comes with immense pressure and expectation and I think it is important as a manager to understand that and have empathy with that.
“Not only is there the public expectation but there is an inherent desire and drive that centre forwards have that if you win the game they don’t score and they are irritated.
“They cannot help that. That is the mindset of the top players. So it (the Germany win) will have been a perfect day for him.
“He wants the team to win more than anything else but for the team to win and him to score, without a doubt that will put a big smile on his face.”