His live-wire running, skilful dribbling and predatory finishing have been pivotal to England’s historic run to the Euro 2020 final.
Yet for all his footballing brilliance, Raheem Sterling insists he owes everything to his big sister.
The Three Lions star has spoken lovingly about how his sibling Lakima, 30, devoted endless hours to him while he embarked upon his journey to the top, while their mother worked tirelessly.
For all his footballing brilliance, Raheem Sterling insists he owes everything to his big sister, left
Picture of Raheem Sterling as a child. He began catching the eye of scouts from leading Premier League clubs such as Arsenal at the age of 10 or 11
Sterling says that his stepsister ‘sacrificed her life’ in order for him to succeed and that he would have been nothing without her.
In return, he said that his ‘whole mission’ as a young hopeful was to sign a professional football contract so that Lakima and his mother, Nadine Clarke, would not have to worry financially.
On an incredible £300,000 a week at Manchester City, those worries are certainly gone forever. But England’s star of the tournament has overcome more adversity than most.
Sterling, 26, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, living in a three-bedroom bungalow with ten members of his extended family. When he was just two years old, his father Phillip Slater was shot dead after being caught up in a gang turf war.
At the age of just four, his mother left for the UK, leaving Sterling and his stepsister in the care of their grandmother Joy Morris. Two years later, the siblings moved to England to join their mother, living on the St Raphael’s estate in Neasden, north-west London.
In a 2018 article, the footballer described the hardship of his younger years as his mother worked around the clock as a cleaner to fund a degree course. He revealed how he and Lakima, known as Kima-Lee, even pitched in by cleaning toilets.
Sterling wrote: ‘My family, we were really tight. We had to be. All we had was us, you know?’
But he began catching the eye of scouts from leading Premier League clubs such as Arsenal at the age of ten or 11. Enticed by the prospect of signing for one of the world’s biggest teams, Sterling recalled his shock when his ‘warrior’ mother said she thought it would be a bad decision.
Writing in The Players’ Tribune, he said: ‘She knows how to make it in this world. She’s probably the most streetwise person I know.
‘She said, “If you go there, there’s going to be 50 players who are just as good as you. You’ll just be a number. You need to go somewhere where you can work your way up.”’
Nadine convinced him to sign for the less glamorous Queen’s Park Rangers, which he describes as ‘the best decision I ever made’.
If England lift the Euro 2020 trophy on Sunday – and you can guarantee Sterling will play a huge role against Italy – then the nation owes a debt of thanks to the loyal sister who never stopped believing in that talented young boy
Nadine convinced him to sign for the less glamorous Queen’s Park Rangers, which he describes as ‘the best decision I ever made’
But the move prompted a logistical problem for the family – who were then living in the shadow of Wembley, where Sterling began to dream of playing.
With his mother tied down with work, the then 13-year-old had to be chaperoned to the club’s Harlington training base near Heathrow Airport by his stepsister.
Sterling described how the journey involved taking three separate buses on each leg, with Lakima often having to take eight hours out of her day to accompany him.
He wrote: ‘We’d leave at 3.15 and get home at 11pm. Every. Single. Day. She’d sit upstairs in the little cafe and chill until I was done with training.
‘Imagine being 17-years-old and doing that for your little brother. And I never once heard her say, “Nah, I don’t wanna take him.” At the time, I didn’t understand how much she was sacrificing. Her and my mum got me here. My whole family played a massive part in my life. Without them, you wouldn’t even know me.’
Dad-of-three Sterling added: ‘My whole mission was to get a proper contract so that my mother and sister didn’t have to stress anymore.’
He made good on that pledge after moves to Liverpool then Manchester City. Sterling filmed himself in 2018 surprising Lakima – who used to run a hairdressing and beauty business – by buying a house for her 27th birthday. Back in 2012, Lakima wrote admiringly online about her ‘lovely, cute’ brother’s skills after watching him do keepie-uppies with a tennis ball.
If England lift the Euro 2020 trophy on Sunday – and you can guarantee Sterling will play a huge role against Italy – then the nation owes a debt of thanks to the loyal sister who never stopped believing in that talented young boy.