England manager Gareth Southgate thinks Raheem Sterling can rival Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world.
The Three Lions boss was speaking after Sterling played a starring role for the team in a thrilling 5-3 win over Kosovo on Tuesday. The Manchester City star grabbed England's equaliser on the night after falling behind, before setting up another three goals in a virtuoso display.
The performance was a continuation of Sterling's form at club level, where he has excelled under the tutelage of manager Pep Guardiola. Speaking about the forward, Southgate said Sterling has all the attributes needed to become one of the best footballers on the planet, per Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail:
"In terms of can he fulfil it, he'll give himself every chance of doing that.
"There are obviously some outstanding players around, the [Eden] Hazards, the [Kevin] De Bruynes, Messi and Ronaldo. But he's got the drive, he's got the professionalism, he's got the ability. He's physically and mentally strong for such a small statured lad."
Here is Sterling's goal from the win, which extended England's perfect record in UEFA 2020 European Championship qualifying Group A to four games:
Sky Sports Statto provided the figures from Sterling's exceptional display at St Mary's:
While Messi and Hazard are currently injured, Ronaldo and De Bruyne have shone during the international break too.
The latter matched grabbed three assists and a goal during Belgium's 4-0 win over Scotland on Monday, while Ronaldo was on the scoresheet four times for Portugal in their 5-1 victory against Lithuania on Tuesday.
Sterling is beginning to showcase the consistency needed to be considered alongside the best players in the game. In general play, he is a constant menace with his dribbling ability and change of pace, but he's now a regular goalscorer too.
Last season, Sterling's productivity was key to him being crowned as the Football Writers' Association 2019 Footballer of the Year:
The man himself said after the Kosovo game that he wants to improve his goalscoring to the levels showcased down the years by Messi and Ronaldo:
In terms of goal hauls, Messi and Ronaldo have set new standards in their time at the top. While there have been occasions when players have matched their totals for a season, the manner in which the duo have been able to post extraordinary numbers so frequently makes them both special.
Sterling is arguably among the best players in the Premier League and has been a crucial player in City's domination of English football over the last couple of years.
The England star still has some way to go before he can be considered alongside the duo mentioned, although of all the forwards in the game seeking to scale those heights, Sterling may well be the most likely candidate to do so.