Phil Foden? Jadon Sancho? Jack Grealish? Mason Mount? Marcus Rashford?
A quick straw poll from England fans pouring out of Wembley Park tube station and making their way up Wembley Way towards the famous arch would have had any of them starting ahead of the man who was born just a mile and a half down the road in Brent.
Yet leaving the stadium, drunk on euphoria of beating their greatest rivals, Raheem Sterling’s name was the only one on their lips.
The Manchester City star scored his third goal in four games for England in the Euros after a tense 75 minutes on Wednesday morning (AEST), and would remain the only Englishman to score at the tournament for another 11 minutes before Harry Kane rounded out the victory.
England have scored four goals in four games at Euro 2020, conceding zero, and Sterling has scored three of them.
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He was officially named man of the match in the first game (unofficially in games three and four) and put on another dazzling performance against the Germans this week, silently pulling England through to the last eight amid the booming clamour for Grealish – the player who is getting better and better with every minute he doesn’t play at the tournament.
Aston Villa captain Grealish is reportedly the subject of a £100m bid from Manchester City to make him the most expensive British player of all time, that’s how highly he is rated from the country’s best club and arguably Europe’s best manager.
Then there is also Sancho, who Manchester United have just agreed a £73m deal to sign from Borussia Dortmund and has been limited to just six minutes of action in the Euros so far, or Foden (worth an estimated £163m, according to CIES), who is the embodiment of the Euro ’96 spirit as he glides through defences with his bleached hair in the style of Paul Gascoigne.
Rashford (worth an estimated £137m, according to CIES) has just come off his best ever season for Manchester United, while Mount (worth an estimated £106m, according to CIES) is a Champions League winner. England’s attacking young guns would make any football fan’s mouth water.
So clearly, England manager Gareth Southgate must not be a football fan then, right? He can’t have seen Sancho’s speed at Dortmund, Foden’s fluidity at City, or Mount’s magic at Chelsea if he is picking Sterling ahead of them all, a player who was in and out of the Manchester City team all season and was reportedly offered as a makeweight to Spurs in their pursuit of Harry Kane.
“He is a fighter,” Southgate said about people calling Sterling into question. “He has got an incredible resilience and hunger.
“He has developed over the last couple of years this real hunger to score, even in the games where the opportunities where the ball has flashed across the box earlier in the tournament, he has been in between the posts.
“He is finding himself in these areas and yes, his drive is fantastic, we know the journey he has been on with England and I am so happy for him to be able to deliver the performances he has.
“To deliver them at Wembley will have been really special for him and, as you said, the goals return is incredible.
“Absolutely incredible, really, but yes, please keep asking the questions because if we cannot motivate him everyone else will certainly be able to!”
Sterling has scored 15 goals in his last 20 England internationals having gone 27 without finding the net prior to that – but the criticism is just spurring him on.
He has often found himself on the front page of British tabloids, or sprawled down the sidebar of prominent international websites, where he has been shamed for spending some of the wealth he has earned from his footballing success like none of his other colleagues have.
He released a powerful anti-racism video last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd with a host of other big names from football where he spoke of becoming tired of the lack of inequality and the lack of social inclusion, of the need to protest and of having their voices ignored.
“I feel like I speak for most black people – everyone is tired,” Sterling told Sky Sports. “A lot of people who have been in silence are using this opportunity as a moment to be one and try to get not just answers but changes to society.
“I’m not someone with the most ideas in the world, or who knows exactly what to do, but we just have to highlight these things that people are facing in everyday aspects of their lives. It is something that is coming up a lot more which is a good thing. I truly do believe that now is the time that we have to act.”
He has come out of it stronger, as a leader and another powerful figure in England’s dressing room off the field. And he now has the potential to become a national hero on it.
England are the highest-ranking team left in their side of the draw, with Ukraine, who scraped through their group in the final of the four best third-place finishers by just a single goal, up next on Sunday morning. On paper, it’s arguably their easiest game to date.
After that, it’s the winner of Czech Republic, who England have already beaten once this tournament thanks to Sterling, and Denmark. Reaching the final is very realistic – and so is winning it, now Portugal and France dumped out of the other side of the draw.
And like it or not, Sterling’s form will be key to that.