Manchester City ace Raheem Sterling reflects on FA Cup memories and growing maturity

Alam Khan - Reporter 01:00 16/03/2019
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  • Having grown up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, Raheem Sterling was 12 when he enjoyed his first visit to the iconic ground and watched the 2007 FA Cup final.

    He had watched the new Wembley being built while riding around on his bike and was among local schoolchildren invited to take part in a special parade to mark the showpiece game.

    “My first game at Wembley was Man United-Chelsea, FA Cup final, Didier Drogba scores the winner,” said Sterling, whose Manchester City side visit Swansea in Saturday’s quarter-final tie.

    “I was actually one of the boys’ attendants, the ones who wore the old kits for the [previous winning FA Cup] teams.

    “It was the first final when the new stadium opened. It was amazing and another thing that inspired me to try to chase my dream of playing there one day. It motivated me, being there and seeing that.”

    Sterling, who later cemented his childhood ambition with a tattoo, ironically wore a 1970s Manchester United top as part of that celebration parade 12 years ago.

    He has since worked hard to fulfil his dream in the colours of their neighbours, targeting a first FA Cup final as a player having made his Wembley debut for England in 2014 and appeared in two League Cup final wins with City.

    The first was a penalty shoot-out win in 2016 against former club Liverpool – his first major trophy – while it was his decisive spot-kick that settled another shoot-out with Chelsea a month ago.

    “It was massive, at Wembley, being at home, and having the final say on the game was a dream come true,” Sterling told Sport360 exclusively.

    “It was an opportunity I was willing to be there for. Obviously my family, friends, were all there so it was a moment I wanted to capitalise on. It was special, perfect.

    “It’s not very often my mum (Nadine) asks for tickets. It was great she was there so I had to make her proud. I want to go back again in the FA Cup.”

    City are now one step away from a Wembley return in the semis and the competition forms part of their bid for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies.

    They currently lead Liverpool by a point as they aim to retain the Premier League title, while they face Spurs in the Champions League quarter finals.

    Sterling has been integral to City’s hunt for honours this season, contributing to 35 goals in 38 games in all competitions, with 19 for himself and 16 assists.

    Four goals have come this week, including a hat-trick against Watford – his first since 2015 – and England boss Gareth Southgate has led the calls backing his Player of the Year credentials, hailing a “phenomenal season” for the frontman.

    “They are great comments from the manager,” added Sterling. “But at the end of the day all I can do is try to play football with my team, try to play well and try to win trophies.

    “Trophies are the ones that decide these things. I’m chasing these things, chasing these trophies.

    “It probably is my best season because I have followed up from the last one. That’s what I wanted to do, keep improving, keep trying to do well for the team.

    “I just try to keep going and be there for the team and massive moments. It’s not just about scoring goals, but it’s about scoring goals that are vital for the end of the season, that make a difference and count towards us lifting a trophy.

    “As a child, being a striker, winger, scoring as many goals as possible is a joy. You dream of getting a hat-trick. When you become a professional, it’s a lot harder and you have to take those moments and try to be there. It was massive to get one against Watford, only my second for City. I just want to keep it going.”

    For Sterling, that is what City also need to do to make history in this campaign.

    Having been seven points behind Liverpool in the title race at one stage, six-straight wins have put them in front, and they have been victorious in 18 of their last 19 games in all competitions.

    He added: “It’s about persistence. Sometimes you are down and disappointed, but you have to keep going, keep winning our games and focus on ourselves.

    “That’s what the manager told us and what we have been doing. Now nothing changes either.

    “We are taking things game by game, the Premier League, the Champions League and now the FA Cup.

    “But we have to believe we can win every game, that has to be the mentality.

    “We are leading the league, but at the same time we can’t focus on the opposition when we are going into any of our games. We have to be single minded, can’t worry about what other teams are doing, we are not in control of that.

    “We are in control of what we do and when we play, and that’s what we have been doing, focusing on ourselves.

    “The teams we are up against in the league are fantastic.

    “Liverpool are a fantastic team and if you are not at your best, not up to your standard then they will punish you, they will take advantage.

    “We know exactly what they can do, but we can’t focus on them or any of the opposition. What they do is down to them. We are in control of our destiny.”

    Sterling has certainly led by example on the field and his growing influence and standing was highlighted when David Silva passed him the captain’s armband in the 7-0 Champions League win over Schalke in midweek.

    It was his first time as skipper since joining City in 2015 and he said: “I feel proud. David insisted I take the armband so that was something great to see and hear.

    “It was something I was immensely happy to do, to captain the team on a night like that.

    “I know it wasn’t at the start of the game, but for him to give me that responsibility was amazing.”