Raheem Sterling cannot wait for Sunday’s Premier League title decider after the “massive honour” of picking up the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award.
A stunning season with Manchester City and England has been complemented by impressive work off the pitch fighting racism in football and society.
Sterling’s heroics saw him crowned PFA Young Player of the Year and then voted as the FWA Footballer of the Year, which the 24-year-old picked up at the Landmark Hotel in London on Thursday.
“It’s a massive achievement, a massive honour,” he said. “To be recognised is always a lovely feeling, especially by the writers. It makes it even more special.
“It is an award that I will cherish, especially with the people that have won it before me so I am really, really glad and proud.”
Sterling collected 62 per cent of the poll by FWA members and beat Liverpool centre-back Virgil Van Dijk to the award by over 100 votes.
He will be hoping to get the better of the Dutchman once again this Sunday, when the most fascinating title race in years goes down to the wire.
City head to Brighton in the driving seat but Liverpool will be desperate to capitalise on any uncharacteristic slip-up by Pep Guardiola’s men as they welcome Wolves to Anfield.
“We know how big an occasion it is,” Sterling said. “But I’d much rather be on our side, to know if we win the game it’s ours.
“It will be a tough day, that’s for sure. We know Brighton won’t just sit there and let us score goals.
“They’re safe and it is going to be a really tough day, to be honest with you, but it is one I am really looking forward to.”
— Nick Mashiter (@nickmashiter) May 9, 2019
Sterling is the first Manchester City player in 50 years to win the FWA Footballer of the Year award, following on from Tony Book sharing the accolade with Derby’s Dave Mackay.
‘Precept and example’ have long been considered when voting for the award – values that Sterling boasts in abundance.
Put to him that he has had a bit of an up and down time with the media in recent years, Sterling said: “Yeah, it’s one of those where I take full responsibility as well because it’s my first time being a professional and everyone makes mistakes, especially being young and not quite understanding what goes on in and around football with the media.
“But as you get older, you mature and understand things much better and I think now people can see me for who I am.
“Role model, not in terms of saying you set out to be a role model but just in terms of leading by example.
“You have young kids who do follow you and do look up to you, and you need to try and set the right example for them and the next generation coming through for sure.
“Certain subjects that I have spoken about this season have been touchy but at the same time I thought it was needed and I tried to do my best to address it in a positive (way) and not come across aggressive or ignorant.”
Sterling also reiterated his desire to see those who are guilty of racial abuse dealt with severely after a number of incidents of players being targeted this season.
“The most important thing about it is education on the topic and to have harsh punishments to make people aware it can’t keep happening. You have to come together as one and find a solution to make this go away. No-one should have the right to judge anyone,” he said.
“I just wanted to express my feelings as there are players who have gone through the same experience as me and some even worse. I’m just trying to use my platform to do the talking for me and for other players.”
Thursday night was a double celebration for City as England striker Nikita Parris collected the FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year.
“It feels amazing to be voted for by the Football Writers’ Association,” she said.
“I am really grateful for the award and I hope the night is special, with two Manchester City players getting the award. Many congratulations to Raheem, I think he has been fantastic this year.
“It has been a fantastic season for us, winning two trophies and will really be fighting for that league trophy next year. It is a fantastic time for women’s football and the England team.”