England manager Gareth Southgate has backed Raheem Sterling to become the world's best player.
Sterling has grown to play a key role for England with a stunning run of eight goals in his past eight appearances demonstrating his importance for Southgate's side.
At club level Sterling has grown in stature as well, helping Manchester City to their second straight Premier League title last season by scoring 17 league goals.
With Cristiano Ronaldo now 34 and Lionel Messi 32, the pair's dominance of global football is set to end in the coming years.
Southgate believes that Sterling, 24, has what it takes to reach the stature of that legendary duo.
“There are obviously some outstanding players around,” Southgate said. “But he will give himself every chance, because he’s got the drive, he’s got the professionalism, he’s got the ability, he’s strong, he’s physically and mentally strong for such a small statured lad.
Sterling initially struggled to turn his club form for Manchester City into high-level performances for the Three Lions, regularly facing strong criticism over his performances.
He branded himself "The Hated One" in a post on social media while enduring a difficult time during England's unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign.
The attacker has also become a social figurehead, drawing praise for speaking out over racism and going viral for his interactions with supporters, with manager Southgate delighted to have a front-row seat to Sterling's continued rise to superstardom.
"For me, it's lovely to see the shift in the public opinion of him," Southgate said of the 24-year-old.
"That's still a brave thing to decide that: 'Right, I'm going to own that space and I'm going to put my own views across'. But those views represent many as well, so I think he's aware of the power of his voice, but he also doesn't waste it.
"I think he was very forthright in his social media posts [about racism]. I think he raised everybody's awareness and made us all think, which was very mature and impressive. And, at the same time, he rose to the challenge with his club, with new signings coming in.
"You know, when you are at a club like that, to keep fighting off the quality of players that he has; and straight away with us, got the goals in Spain - first game after the World Cup for him, really. Croatia away, Spain. I think it was such a huge weight lifted for him, he almost jumped six foot in the stadium, didn't he?
"So I think from that moment - because he did come home a bit sad after the World Cup, there's no hiding from that. He didn't deserve to feel that way, but that's as he was, so it's lovely to see the recognition he's getting and how much extra I think that's bringing out of him."
Asked how Sterling will have felt to have been made a scapegoat earlier in his international career, Southgate said: "Difficult for me to say. I can only imagine. Everyone wants to be liked, don't they?
"Everybody, players give their all. He's a player that has always given his all… You know how much it means to him, how much he wants to do well.
"So, I think it's for him to reflect on how he might have felt then and, for me, it's just lovely to see a young man establishing himself, at the real top table in the game."