Raheem Sterling has struck fear into opponents at Euro 2020 ahead of England’s final showdown with Italy, former Three Lions forward Emile Heskey told Stats Perform.
Sterling had already scored three goals before laying on the opener for captain Harry Kane in the 4-0 quarter-final win against Ukraine.
The Manchester City attacker was then in electrifying form in the semi-final versus Denmark, eventually winning the decisive penalty in extra time, with Kane beating Kasper Schmeichel on the rebound after his initial spot-kick was saved.
Sterling has attempted (32) and completed (18) more take-ons than any other player at Euro 2020 and Heskey believes this relentless edge to the 26-year-old’s game will be vital as he pits his wits against the expertise of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in the Italy defence.
“Raheem has showed us time and time again that he is a key player to any team that he goes into,” he said.
“Whether it be when he was very young and was playing for Liverpool, or now as a senior pro – even though he’s only 26 – playing for the for the national team and playing for Man City. He always brings something.
“You watch him when he’s on the ball, he takes away three or four players that become attracted to him.
“If he gives it away, he’ll inevitably be trying win it back. But when you’ve got four people attracted to one player, there should be ample space for others and that’s what he brings to the table because everyone’s so scared of him.
“He’s got that pace and we see a lot of players with pace, but to be able to utilize it in the way that he does… even in extra time [against Denmark] he was driving past players and taking them on.
“Players were not wanting to get too close, because it’s going to be a foul if you get too close to him. No defender wants to go anywhere near him.”
Heskey is also a huge admirer of the manner in which Sterling and other members of the England squad have stood up for causes they believe in over recent months.
Sterling was awarded an MBE last month for his efforts to promote racial equality, while England’s players have continued to take a knee before matches despite the likes of UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Pritti Patel defending fans who chose to boo the peaceful protest.
“It’s fantastic. You’ve got to take your hat off to them, because again, they’re getting a little bit of kickback,” said Heskey, who was also keen to acknowledge Marcus Rashford’s work in trying to combat child hunger.
“But they know that they’re doing the right thing standing up for what they believe, whether it’s Marcus, whether it’s Raheem, whoever it is. They want to stand up for what they believe.
“The wrong people are going to try and sabotage that. But they know that they’ve got most of the people behind them.”
Heskey added: “We’re not just talking about fans, we’re talking about all walks of life, talking about MP’s saying whether it’s right or wrong.
“So we’re having kickbacks from everywhere, but they’re still pushing. They’re still not listening. They’re still doing what they believe is right.”