Perhaps Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling aren’t leaders in the most traditional sense — grizzled veterans who have been around the block and seen everything there is to see — but nevertheless, they’re the ones setting the example for England’s next generation of young stars, many of whom aren’t so much younger than they are.
It’s clear for all to see that Kane and Sterling are leading and inspiring the Three Lions with their on-field performances, for club and for country — they have 55 goals and 19 assists between them since August — but to hear Gareth Southgate speak of their leadership off the field, one can’t help but feel the England program has been entrusted to very safe hands — quotes from the Guardian:
“To have such a top striker, like Harry, who has such humility and such a low ego, has a huge impression on the whole group, because at the moment he is the star player. You wouldn’t know it from the way he conducts himself, you wouldn’t know it from his application to training and the way he is disciplined with his preparation and his focus.
“Equally, that’s the same for Raheem. You see his focus in training, his preparation for those things, so for young players coming on it’s an easy equation: if I do the things those two do, there’s a good chance that I’ll get the performances that they are putting in.”
It’s certainly a new concept that players could be the undisputed leaders of the England squad at 25 and 24 years old, respectively — particularly to Southgate, who came through the England setup in the 1990s — but it’s something he’s been quick to embrace.
“I think young people in all walks of society have a little bit more belief. I think bosses in all industries are less draconian in the way they work, and I think that helps youngsters to come in and be more creative and believe they can make a difference. They don’t baulk at anything. I just think, generally speaking, given an opportunity, they’ll go and surprise people.”
“(During Southgate’s career) You were told: ‘Don’t get carried away, you’ve got to earn your right to play, you’ve got to earn your right to do this. Did that get the most out of us? Probably not. There were some great qualities that gave us, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that, because respect is important, as is appreciation of what you’ve got, but equally, we want to let talent have its head.”
In particular, 17-year-old Jadon Sancho already views Sterling as a hero, a mentor and a friend. Asked whether Sterling “was now one of the daddies of the team”:
“Yeah,” the 18-year-old replied, his face lighting up as he began his eulogy. “His numbers are crazy this year, and he’s showing all the youngsters what it’s about. I’m just happy that I’m sharing a pitch with him.”