Neil Humphreys: Sterling must step up for England
Flying winger must finally deliver in England jersey
As the popular chant goes, there's only one Raheem Sterling.
But there really isn't. There's one Raheem Sterling at Manchester City and another in an England jersey.
He's a gifted winger struggling with his own schizophrenia.
Three Lions coach Gareth Southgate faces the unenviable task of merging the two sides of Sterling against Slovenia in a World Cup qualifier tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
He remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery of a truly enigmatic footballer capable of either destroying opposition or disappearing for 90 minutes.
He's either a world beater or a waste of time, an exasperating artist in dire need of a middle ground.
Sterling already has six goals in all competitions for City this season. He's a key component in their electrifying start to the campaign.
Pep Guardiola's much-lauded "carousel" approach to attacking, possession-based football came to the fore against Chelsea.
His thoroughbreds took the Blues for a ride. City's dynamic, pass-and-move football exhausted Chelsea.
Their 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 are the kind of numbers that titillate geeks. The purists witnessed a dizzying blur of intoxicating football, with Sterling always involved.
City's slick, relentless passing game relies on width, stretching their opponents to breaking point. Positions were fluid with the notable exceptions of Leroy Sane and Sterling.
They hugged their respective touchlines as if those white stripes were long, lost relatives.
With an extra man in midfield, City gifted Sterling the time and space he rarely enjoys for his country.
Playing a similar role for England, he often looks isolated. In a City shirt, he looks liberated.
Sterling hasn't fizzed around the ball with such verve and confidence since he initially broke into Liverpool's first team.
At Anfield, he was in the company of Luis Suarez and an injury-free Daniel Sturridge. At the Etihad, he shines among great players. At international level, he largely huffed and puffed with great pretenders.
It's largely forgotten now that Sterling actually made a positive impression when he made his World Cup debut in Brazil three years ago.
Watching the Three Lions wilt in the oppressive Manaus humidity made for a dispiriting evening. They were somewhere between abject and awful against the victorious Italians.
But Sterling was the solitary bright spark. He was quick, bold and adventurous against seasoned Italians. He was still only 18. The only way was up for the teenage tornado.
Only it wasn't. He plateaued instead.
His decision to engineer a move from Liverpool to City turned the public against him.
He inadvertently became the poster boy for all that had supposedly gone wrong with the modern game; a greedy, vacuous footballer more interested in wearing bling than winning silverware.
Consistency eluded him as both City and England went through different managers and playing systems.
But Guardiola appears to be mining a rich seam of Sterling now. The Spaniard sees not another 22-year-old English winger waffling on about untapped potential, but a proven World Cup veteran.
Southgate needs to see Sterling in the same way.
As it stands, the footballer finds himself lumped in the Three Lions category marked "frustrating" with the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
He's another great young hope, a precocious talent tasked with the colossal job of dragging England from the wilderness and into the Wembley sunshine.
His career has followed that well-worn path. He breaks through for England. He impresses. He's over-hyped. He underwhelms.
Sterling was so uninspiring against Malta last month, he was substituted at half-time. In the subsequent victory against Slovakia, he wasn't even used.
He's flying for his club. He looks forlorn for his country.
But the decisive World Cup qualifier against Slovenia feels different. Sterling is not only expected to start, he also shares his fine form with able colleagues.
Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Sterling offer Southgate the tantalising prospect of picking the most exciting front three in a generation.
Unbelievably, the trio has only previously been on the pitch together for a single minute for the Three Lions. Injury, unavailability or a loss of form had always denied the young guns an opportunity to play together, but not anymore.
With Wayne Rooney finally out of the picture, England's attacking line-up boasts youth, speed, invention and irrepressible confidence.
Until recently, Sterling could conceivably argue that his schizophrenia was triggered by those around him.
For City, he was surrounded with pedigree. For England, he ambled around with plodders.
He no longer has that excuse. He's a first among equals.
He must shake off his inconsistency at international level and finally prove that there really is only one Raheem Sterling.
- Malta v Lithuania
- Scotland v Slovakia