Gareth Southgate hailed hat-trick hero Raheem Sterling for turning his England career around after the Manchester City star's treble led a 5-0 demolition of the Czech Republic at Wembley.
Sterling also won a penalty for captain Harry Kane to get on the scoresheet amid his three-goal salvo as Southgate's men made an emphatic start to qualifying for Euro 2020 on Friday. Southgate was suitably impressed and put Sterling's improvement in front of goal for England down to acting on instinct.
"Brilliant, I thought he was electric all game," Southgate told ITV when asked to evaluate Sterling's display. "He's looked that way all week in training. [He was] involved in four of the goals and I'm really pleased for him, a really special night for him.
"I just think he's really matured as a person and footballer and he's hungry for those goals now. He's determined to get into the right areas on the pitch, and the quality of his finishing; he's hitting things instinctively, not thinking too much."
Sterling, who only had four international goals to his name going into the match, had a similar observation, though he also highlighted self-belief.
When asked what he felt had changed for him in an England shirt, Sterling said: "Being confident in myself, being there, trying to get in [goal-scoring] areas, taking shots and not worrying about anything, just going with it. That's it."
Established as one of City's most reliable match-winners as it chases honours on multiple fronts this season, Sterling has not always thrived so easily in an England shirt. His first 45 caps yielded just two goals and six tireless displays on the way to a fourth-placed finish at Russia 2018 ended with him failing to find the target.
Southgate believes the 24-year-old's coolly taken brace in October's 3-2 Nations League triumph over Spain could come to be looked back upon as a watershed moment for a player now of pivotal importance for club and country.
"We can't hide from the fact that he's had difficult moments with England and he's turned that full circle," said Southgate.
"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.
"At times, you could almost see the thought process in the past, but he's hungry for those goals. I know he's spoken about that before – of how he's added that incentive to his game – and I thought he was devastating."
England is are not short of livewire attackers in wide areas, with Jadon Sancho celebrating his full debut by laying on Sterling's opener before the Borussia Dortmund man's fellow 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi enjoyed a lively maiden international appearance from the bench.
To these players and others, Sterling has taken on something of a mentoring role – one in which Southgate feels he thrives.
"He’s in a really confident moment, not only on the field, but off the field he’s so mature and comfortable in himself," he added.
"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."
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