Euro 2020 will do a lot for the careers of a lot of different players, but nobody will benefit from the tournament quite like Raheem Sterling.
The 26-year-old came into the competition in arguably the biggest rut of his senior career. He had been undoubtedly underwhelming at club level for Manchester City and ended the season as a bit-part player behind England teammate Phil Foden in the pecking order.
There was a general feeling that Sterling may have past his sell-by date. He was being linked with a move away from City, who had Foden as their new star, and many fans felt he was nowhere near good enough to be England’s starting winger at Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate blocked out the noise. He had seen the best of Sterling, who had 12 goals and ten assists in his previous 16 games for his country, and kept the faith in the City man at a time when nobody else really did.
And what a decision that turned out to be.
In his seven games, Sterling racked up three goals and an assist. He was England’s top performer by a long way, leading an attacking line which was actually fairly stale early on. Before Harry Kane decided to turn up, Sterling had the entire nation on his back, scoring the team’s first three goals and being the sole reason they actually topped their group.
Had England won the tournament, Sterling would undoubtedly have been named as Euro 2020’s best player, and it wouldn’t have even been close.
In less than a month, Sterling has gone from an unwanted City flop to a national hero. He has proven to be capable of scoring goals, winning games and performing on the biggest stage – three things he was criticised for struggling with last season.
It begs the question: what happened last year?
While we’ve never had a straight answer from Sterling, he’s given us more than a few hints. After the Croatia game, he admitted there were a lot of reasons, shortly after which he confessed his form was impacted by unhappiness with his situation.
Under Pep Guardiola last season, who seemed to see him as ‘just another winger’, Sterling found it very hard to show his best. However, when backed to high heaven by Southgate, he was capable of turning on the style.
That’s not to say that Guardiola is to blame for Sterling’s poor form, but importantly, it should prove that it was poor form and not a general decline which almost had him battling for his career at the highest level.
Guardiola should be open to the idea of making Sterling a focal point of his attack again, but if he does not, there will be more than a few managers who watched him at Euro 2020 and will be prepared to offer him a new home.
This summer could have been a tumultuous one for Sterling, but he’s redeemed himself no end. His future might still be a little cloudy, but there is now a light at the end of the tunnel that didn’t appear to be there a few weeks ago.