Around Christmas time, when Liverpool were clinging on to the final Champions League spot just three points ahead of Newcastle, few would have included the Reds’ sparingly-used, wing sensation Raheem Sterling in their fantasy World Cup squads.
Fast forward almost five months and the Merseysiders sit on the cusp of a maiden Premier League title, with Sterling – now a shoo-in to make the plane to Brazil barring injury – one of the driving forces behind this success.
Such is the extent of his rise to prominence, there’s a solid case worth arguing as to why he must now not be content with bench-warming in South America, but pushing for a start against Italy in England’s opening game, which the Three Lions are 21/10 to win.
The 19-year-old made Roy Hodgson’s squad for the final World Cup qualifier against Poland and watched an Andros Townsend master class in wing wizardry help reserve England’s spot in Brazil, but a start in the recent friendly victory over Denmark suggests he’s forcing himself more and more into the manager’s plans.
Since his wondrous showing to slay the Poles and preceding performance against Montenegro, Townsend’s stock has stagnated somewhat, starting just six league matches and scoring once for Tottenham since his aforementioned qualification heroics.
Sterling’s progression, however, has advanced unquestionably in the same period, his rise to prominence culminating in a brace that allowed Liverpool to best Norwich 3-2 last time out.
It wasn’t just his two goals, or the assist he provided for Luis Suarez, but also the manner of his performance that will have impressed the England manager.
As the Canaries turned the heat up, desperately trying to claw a way into the match, the Jamaican-born flyer constantly sought out possession and exemplified a tactical awareness belying his years in the way he took up spaces in which to best utilise his searing pace.
In addition to out-doing Suarez in the goalscoring and assisting stakes, Sterling also matched the Uruguayan in the dribbling and key passes department, as well as winning more free kicks for his side and having more touches.
His explosive style and eye for goal make him one of England’s most threatening weapons and, against adversaries as accomplished as the Italians, such tools must be turned to.