Steve Gallen is delighted to see Raheem Sterling silence his doubters at Euro 2020 and believes the England attacker has showed what is possible when given opportunities in life.
Gallen coached the Manchester City winger when he was a schoolboy at QPR and on Sunday the “boy from Brent” will walk out at Wembley in a major final for his country against Italy.
Five years on from being a scapegoat when the Three Lions exited the 2016 European Championships, Sterling’s three goals in this tournament have gone a long way to helping Gareth Southgate’s squad make history.
Brought up a stone’s throw from Wembley, this weekend will be extra special for the Jamaica-born footballer and his family and while the 26-year-old is the talk of the nation, a part of London in particular is extremely proud.
“You can actually see Wembley Stadium in the playground of his old school,” Gallen told the PA news agency after visiting Ark Elvin Academy – formerly Copland Community School.
“I saw all the kids there last week and they are so proud of Raheem. Many are from immigrant backgrounds and they will see Raheem and think ‘I can do that’.
“Raheem is from an immigrant background, I am from an immigrant background as my parents come to this country from Ireland. So many people can look at Raheem and say ‘I want to be like him’ or ‘I can be like him’.
“There are chances for everybody and chances for people to be like him. He is making so many people proud. I imagine everybody in Jamaica is proud and his Mum, how proud will she be and his sister and the rest of the family? It is unbelievable for a kid who is so unassuming.”
Sterling was exactly the same as an 11-year-old when he first crossed paths with Gallen, who was QPR’s schoolboy manager at the time.
Four years after moving to the UK, it did not take the diminutive speedster long to cause waves at the Sky Bet Championship club but he was only able to attend training after taking three buses in the evening with his sister Kima-lee.
Gallen was immediately struck by Sterling’s desire to win and then a half-volley from 30 yards in an Under-16 game against Millwall which was “the best goal I ever saw scored in youth football” according to the 47-year-old.
“Everyone who didn’t know who Raheem was around the QPR schoolboy section knew who he was straight after that,” the current Charlton director of football added.
Remarkably Sterling was only 13 at the time but playing against footballers much older was the norm and the following season even more opportunities were presented.
When Gallen took over the Under-18s at Loftus Road, the winger also made the step up with him and would eventually play for QPR in a reserve game against Aldershot
He said: “I have seen Raheem say whatever team Steve went to, I just brought him with me and it wasn’t because he was one of my favourites. There are none but you are just trying to help people and push them along and challenge them.
“I included him in one reserve team match. He was 14 and played in a men’s team game for QPR… I was sitting and thinking should I do it because I just didn’t want him to get hurt and smashed.”
Like with most challenges that have come his way, Sterling coped fine before Liverpool came calling in 2010. It was another big move but paid off with the Reds giving the teenager a debut two years later.
Gallen admitted: “In his life he has gone through a lot because his dad passed away when he was young, then leaving Jamaica and leaving London at 15 to go to Liverpool.
“Leaving his mum Nadine and sister to go to Liverpool would have been like going to another country but that boy takes everything in his stride.”
A £49million move to Manchester City occurred in 2015 but life has been far from straightforward despite winning a plethora of trophies at the Etihad.
In between the goals and wins has been a long-standing battle for equality after receiving racist abuse on numerous occasions and in December of 2018 he accused newspapers of helping to “fuel racism” in the way they portrayed young black footballers.
Dips in form have contributed to a journey full of ups and downs that required a large amount of resilience, especially after he was heavily criticised following Euro 2016 but when Sterling walks out at Wembley on Sunday and takes the knee before playing for his country in a major final, it will fill those closest to him with an enormous sense of pride.
“There is always an expectation around England and when it doesn’t happen someone has to be the fall guy,” Gallen said.
“He let the ball roll under his foot one time against Denmark and it went out. I know there would have been load of people moaning about his touch saying he is not Lionel Messi.
“I feel like saying he is not Messi but he is Raheem Sterling, who is brilliant and doing things none of us can get close to.
“Gareth Southgate keeps talking about making their own history and so many people condemned Gareth after Euro 96 and so many condemned Raheem.
“But it is an amazing story and QPR should be proud. I get the plaudits at times because I did put my arm around him and look after him but there were other people involved at QPR.
“Other people involved at Liverpool and Man City, so where do you stop but the most important? His mum, sister and him. That is the real story.”