Steven Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo he believes teammate Raheem Sterling deserves a place alongside him in England’s World Cup squad after describing him as Liverpool’s “toughest” player.
Sterling is in line to win his second full international cap when Roy Hodgson’s side face Denmark in a friendly at Wembley on Mar. 5 after overcoming a dip in form to start Liverpool’s last 14 Premier League games, becoming a key figure in their chase for Champions League football.
The 19-year-old's performances have impressed Liverpool and England captain Gerrard, and Sterling has been assessed regularly this season by both Hodgson and his assistant Ray Lewington ahead of the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
The 33-year-old Anfield skipper believes both will have noted the teenager’s outstanding Premier League performances in the 4-0 win over Everton on Jan. 28 and the 5-1 victory over Arsenal on Feb. 8, in which he scored twice.
“[Sterling] is the toughest in our squad,” Gerrard said. “I don’t go near him in training because if I do, there is only one winner.
“Raheem has been in great form over the last couple of months and I’m sure Roy Hodgson is watching him very closely. The Arsenal game was an unbelievable performance from a guy of that age. I was just disappointed that he didn’t go on and get his hat-trick.
“His form of late has been sensational and if he continues that until the end of the season, we will see him at the World Cup. I said to him before we played Everton: 'Put yourself in the full-back’s position -- what doesn’t he want? He doesn’t want you to keep running at him.’
“Raheem was relentless that night. He kept going and going. He gave the Everton full-backs a torrid afternoon and he did it to Arsenal. Now he has to do it every week and get that consistency in his game. If he gets that consistency, he is going to be a frightening talent.”
Hodgson has played a role in the development of Sterling, having been the first manager to select him both for Liverpool’s first team and England’s senior squad.
During his six-month stint in charge at Anfield, Hodgson fielded the winger, then aged just 15, for the last seven minutes of a pre-season friendly against Borussia Monchengladbach in August 2010. He then gave Sterling his only England cap to date, in a friendly against Sweden in Stockholm in November 2012.
Having become a Liverpool regular during the first half of last season, the Jamaica-born winger lost his place because of a combination of injury and loss of form.
But Hodgson took charge of an England under-21 match against Scotland in August 2013, following the sacking of Stuart Pearce but before the appointment of Gareth Southgate, and was impressed with Sterling’s display in a 6-0 win.
This season, the teenager made just one Premier League start before the end of November, but has been a regular since then with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers impressed by the work ethic and physique of Sterling -- who stands at 5ft 7in -- as much as his skill, and recently suggested that he was "one of the most tactically-gifted players I’ve worked with."
“[Sterling] just needs to keep learning and listening to Brendan Rodgers and the experienced players in the dressing room -- and keep believing in himself,” Gerrard added. “If he does that, he’ll be all right.”