ASHLEY COLE believes Raheem Sterling will push on and become one of the greatest players in English history.
The Manchester City ace, 24, has been in electric form for both club and country over the last 12 months.
But Cole, who was part of the Three Lions squad when Sterling began his international career in 2012, believes this is just the start.
The former Chelsea full-back had a 13-year, 107-cap career with his country, playing alongside greats such as Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.
At club level, he was a team-mate of superstars such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard.
Yet Cole has been wowed by the way Sterling has developed his game in recent years — especially under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, and believes he can go right to the top.
The 38-year-old, who is working towards his coaching badges at Chelsea, said: “Raheem can become one of the world’s best.
“If he keeps assisting and scoring goals, keeps winning trophies, he can be one of the best players in English history.
“He’s matured massively. It helps having a manager who is willing to stick by him and drum in certain movements to make him tactically more aware.
“You can see that in his game. His runs are better, his movements are better.
“He’s always on the move, turning and running at defenders, something which someone with his pace should be doing on a regular basis.
Raheem can be one of the best players in English history.
“He just maybe didn’t have that at Liverpool but now he is popping up with an end product, scoring goals that are vitally important.
“I always felt he was capable of this. He had all the attributes to do it, but probably needed a bit of tweaking, which Pep Guardiola has seen — and taken the time to do it.
“He’s probably the first name on the team sheet now.”
Cole was a part of the 2004 Arsenal ‘Invicibles’ with Henry and says the level the French World Cup-winner reached is what Sterling must aspire to.
He said: “Could Raheem become a Thierry? We’ll have to see. Raheem is a winger, Thierry started as a winger but his main position was a striker.
“Yes Raheem is getting better, he’s getting a bit more clever at how to get in between the lines, driving with the ball more.
“He was maybe taking too many touches before on the ball and his head wasn’t up.
“But now he’s understood with his pace he’s getting into the right pockets, he gets the ball and drives.
“Of course Raheem can improve his finishing, but Henry you can’t compare. Henry wasn’t dropping deep to get the ball and was not as wiry as Raheem or as sharp.
“But Henry could finish and that was natural. It’s not something you can teach.”
Cole has also been impressed by the way Sterling has dealt with all the things thrown at him to reach his current level.
Sterling has had to endure racial abuse from the stands and got stick from England for his lacklustre performances early in his international career.
Despite being regarded as one of the world’s best left-backs and winning a century of England caps, Cole was often a target for the boo boys too.
Stories about his wage demands and his marriage to Cheryl did him no favours in the eyes of supporters so he knows exactly what Sterling has been through.
He said: “You just go out and play football. We are paid and this is what we love. It’s about getting out on the pitch and proving people wrong with the ball at your feet. Raheem has done that and won fans over.
“He’s a footballer and he’s doing a great job at it.
“That’s what people really need to look at.”
Cole also believes Sterling will be a perfect role model for the next bunch of kids coming through.
Former City trainee Jadon Sancho has admitted he looks up to the ex-Liverpool man who is now a Three Lions team-mate.
And Cole said: “I see him inspiring the players coming through. The problems he went through and how he handled it was brilliant. Week in, week out, he’s on fire.
“There’s always a powerful moment, when you are scoring goals, playing well, in the limelight. And he can definitely be someone that everyone, not just black players, look up to and want to do better.
“I think the younger ones coming through with England, people like Jadon Sancho, will be looking at him.
“They’ll be thinking, ‘Right, if I get my head down, work hard I can become one of the main players for England’. Raheem, for me, has nailed his spot down.”
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