Gareth Southgate hailed his “electric” hat-trick hero Raheem Sterling and claimed the forward has now won over the Wembley crowd as England made a perfect start to Euro 2020 qualifying.
And England manager Southgate also revealed he has promoted Sterling to his leadership group as reward for the maturity he has shown on and off the pitch.
Sterling’s treble, plus a Harry Kane penalty and an own-goal from Tomas Kalas secured a 5-0 victory over Czech Republic to send England straight to the top of Group A.
Southgate said: “Raheem was brilliant, electric all night. He’s looked that all week in training, involved in four of the goals, and I’m really pleased for him. It’s a special night for him.
“I’ve put him into the leadership group that we have. I think he’s showing those signs, I think he’s a role model for the younger players coming in. He’s really focused on his training and his preparation, and I think he’s enjoyed that extra responsibility as well.
“We can’t hide from the fact that he’s had difficult moments with England and he’s turned that full circle. I also think the goals in Spain were an important moment for him; you could see the release that had brought. And his finishes there and tonight were finishes that he was just taking on without thinking too much. I thought he was devastating tonight.”
Sterling celebrated the second goal of his treble by revealing a T-shirt paying tribute to 13-year-old London schoolboy Damary Dawkins, who died of leukaemia last week.
“Damary was a kid I was trying to help and we thought we'd found a donor. Sadly it didn't match and sadly he passed away, so I wanted to give his family something to smile about.”
On his hat-trick, Sterling added: “It was a beautiful team performance. I was happy to help the team, and most importantly we got the win. I’m just confident in myself, trying to get in there and take shots, and not worry about anything. I just go with it.”
The only blemish on the night for England was a hip injury Eric Dier suffered early in the game that has ruled him out of Monday night’s trip to Podgorica. He will return to Tottenham Hotspur for treatment.