Raheem Sterling is playing with a smile on his face and relishing the chance to fire England to Euro 2020 glory just a stone’s throw from where he grew up.
It is hard to believe that the Manchester City winger is still only 26 given this will be the Three Lions’ most-capped squad member’s fourth major tournament.
Sterling heads into the rearranged Euros on the back of an up-and-down season, from the highs of winning another Premier League to the disappointment of a drop in game-time and the Champions League final loss.
The forward no longer looks a shoo-in to start Sunday’s opener against Croatia given the gamut of attacking options at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, yet he heads into the tournament full of positivity.
“We had a couple of days before we met up with the team,” Sterling told talkSPORT. “I’m feeling good. Things like this, the tournaments, it’s all about mentality, really.
“Yeah, you can play a lot of games but if mentally you’re not happy, if mentally you’re a bit down, OK, the tournament can be physically demanding, but if you’re happy and you’re raring to go then that’s the most important thing.”
Asked about switching from the Champions League disappointment to the Euros, he said: “As I said, mentality.
“It’s where your head’s at, your mind space. Right now my mindset here is to just smile and be happy.”
Sterling beamed from ear-to-ear as he spoke at St George’s Park, where England will be based throughout a Euros that they will largely play on home soil.
All three Group D matches are being hosted at Wembley, where England will be hoping to return for the semi-finals and July 11 showpiece.
“Honestly, I can’t wait, man,” Sterling said. “I actually can’t wait.
“It’s been a long season but I’m here with England now. Been a good season with Man City, we’ve won some trophies. Disappointed that we didn’t get the Champions League.
“I’m playing at Wembley, the team’s playing at Wembley. For me, this is what dreams are made of and I’m just going into this with a lovely mindset.”
For Sterling the tournament is made even more special by the fact so much of it is being held at the national stadium.
He has a tattoo on his left arm of himself wearing a number 10 shirt looking up at the arch, having grown up nearby dreaming of one day becoming the “king of Wembley”.
“It’s a lovely thing,” Sterling said. “Normally when you come with England you’re travelling, you’re on a plane, you go somewhere.
“It’s moody, you get to a hotel, the hotel’s moody. You’re there, you’ve got football to play, you enjoy your football, you get back to the hotel, it’s boring.
“Coming here, somewhere you’ve been for many years. You know everything about the place and it’s just nice to be on home soil for once and breathing some great British air and the weather’s nice outside.
“And I can’t stop smiling!”
That positivity extends into the England’s chance at the Euros, where they enter among the favourites having surprisingly reached the World Cup semi-finals three years ago.
“When I first came in the national team, I wouldn’t dare to say like ‘we should be doing this, we should be doing that’,” Sterling said.
“But with the players we’ve got, of course the most important thing is trying to qualify out the group but we want to be challenging.
“We want to be challenging, we want to get to the final. That’s the whole reason why the FA and everyone has set up that beautiful building over there (St George’s Park), somewhere as comfortable as possible.
“But, yeah, we have to be challenging. It’s as simple as that.”