Raheem Sterling has vowed to finally emulate his blistering Manchester City form in an England shirt as the electric winger eyes redemption at the World Cup.
Sterling’s last taste of a major international tournament was a bitter one, but the forthcoming World Cup in Russia has the potential to be a far more uplifting experience.
Sterling endured vitriolic abuse for his tame performances at Euro 2016, a witch hunt that peaked when he posted a social media message appearing to flaunt his wealth just hours after playing in England’s humiliating last 16 loss against Iceland.
His problems carried over to City as Sterling struggled to impress new boss Pep Guardiola last season, sparking rumours the winger would be sold.
But Sterling has a fiercely competitive streak burning between a largely placid demeanour and he rose to the challenge of proving Guardiola and his critics wrong.
The 23-year-old won back his place despite Guardiola’s preseason signing of winger Bernardo Silva and has emerged as a key figure in City’s charge to the Premier League title.
“When there is doubt or I’m under pressure, that’s when I’m at my best,” Sterling told reporters on Monday.
“When you see stuff like you might not be in the squad, you think: ‘Okay, we’ll see.’
“It was the same thing in the summer when Bernardo signed and we already had Leroy [Sane].
“I thought to myself: ‘When I get back for preseason, make sure I’m on it. I was looking forward to it.’
“I wasn’t aware of some of the stuff around Euro 2016. But if I’m getting judged on football and I’m doing bad I accept that.
“I’ve always had belief I can get better.”
Sterling credits Guardiola for seeing potential in the raw youngster who arrived from Liverpool convinced he had to win games all on his own.
Guardiola has mixed sage advice with some tough love to get Sterling to buy into his team-first philosophy.
The results have been remarkable, with Sterling scoring a series of vital goals in City’s march to the brink of winning the Premier League.
“He gives me a lot confidence. Before I was more raw, every time I got the ball I wanted to take someone on,” Sterling said.
“For me, the main thing is he makes everyone do the simple stuff, play the easy pass.
“He told me to open my body up when I dribble to get momentum rather than dribbling with the outside of my foot.
“But he lets you know when he’s not happy. I gave the ball away three times against [Crystal] Palace and I thought I wouldn’t play again for the rest of the season!”
Now Sterling, who has 20 goals for City this season, hopes to find his scoring form with England after a long international drought.
His next opportunity comes on Tuesday night when England face Italy in a friendly at Wembley.
“It’s because the gaffer takes me off!” he joked of his barren run.
“It’s a different environment, but I should be scoring for England.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. It was the same with City and then there was a turn around.
“I do have a feeling its going to come soon.”
England manager Gareth Southgate has noticed the change in Sterling over the last year and he believes the player deserves as much credit as Guardiola for the transformation.
“I can see the confidence in him. That’s where Raheem has to take credit – if a player isn’t willing then all those messages from the manager are wasted,” Southgate said.
“You can see the positions he has taken up, his belief in front of goal.
“He’s scored more goals in training this week than I’ve ever seen. He’s thinking about the type of shot more, not snatching at things.”