Gareth Southgate Backs Raheem Sterling to Rival Messi, Ronaldo as World's Best

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2019

England's coach Gareth Southgate greets England's forward Raheem Sterling (L) during the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. (Photo by Yuri CORTEZ / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
YURI CORTEZ/Getty Images

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:

ITV Football @itvfootball

England are level! Raheem Sterling heads the Three Lions back on level terms after trailing for just seven minutes https://t.co/Zwyi2Yo1Wl

Sky Sports Statto provided the figures from Sterling's exceptional display at St Mary's:

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

Raheem Sterling's night: 5️⃣ shots - scored England's equaliser 👏 8️⃣th goal in his last 8️⃣ caps 👏 2️⃣ assists from 2️⃣ chances created 👏 🔟 dribbles, 9️⃣ successful 👏 Won 1️⃣1️⃣ of 1️⃣5️⃣ duels - most of any player 👏 https://t.co/xbmS4TxEzi

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:

Squawka Football @Squawka

@muhammadbutt Raheem Sterling's 2018-19 Premier League season by numbers: 34 games 82 take-ons completed 77 total shots 66 chances created 44 fouls won 17 goals 10 assists 3 trophies What a season he's had. 👏 https://t.co/dgRnS9t4vN

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:

AS English @English_AS

Raheem Sterling eyes Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo goal scoring longevity https://t.co/IE8HOH3pca https://t.co/L4uqmUjCng

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.