BASEL // The England captain Wayne Rooney has likened teammate Raheem Sterling to the former Arsenal winger Marc Overmars and predicted a “massive” future for him at club and international level.
Sterling, 19, burst onto the scene with Liverpool last season and was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from England’s dismal showing at the World Cup in Brazil, where they went out in the group stage.
Ahead of today’s opening 2016 European Championship qualifier against Switzerland, Rooney revealed that he had given the teenager a pre-World Cup pep talk in which he told him about his similarity to Overmars.
“I sat down with him before the World Cup and showed him videos of Marc Overmars. He reminded me of him. I think he has the potential to be as good,” the Manchester United striker told a media briefing on Sunday.
“He’s a fantastic player. You saw that last season, and with the start to this season.
“He’s quite an unusual player. He can play right across the front line, out wide. Although he’s a small lad, he’s really strong as well.
“He’s a young lad, but the potential he’s shown is incredible. He’ll be a massive player for us (England) for the next 10-15 years, and unfortunately, for Liverpool!”
A lightning-quick, right-footed left winger, Overmars won 86 caps for the Netherlands and starred for the Arsenal team that won a Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998. He is now the director of football at Ajax.
Sterling was England’s stand-out player in their friendly against Norway on Wednesday, winning the second-half penalty from which Rooney scored the game’s only goal and giving the Norwegian defence a series of discomfiting moments.
Although England mustered only two shots on target in the game, manager Roy Hodgson was staunch in his defence of his players afterwards.
“It’s unusual for me to get angry with my players because I protect them,” Hodgson said. “If I’m guilty of anything the other night, it was of protecting players from unfair criticism and standing up for them.
RECORD IN ROONEY’S SIGHTS
Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring records are so close Wayne Rooney can smell them.
Rooney became England’s fourth-highest scorer of all time on Wednesday when he struck the winning penalty against Norway at Wembley.
His 41st international goal moved him ahead of childhood idol Michael Owen and within eight goals of England’s leading scorer of all time, Charlton.
His record of 249 Manchester United is also in danger of tumbling, with Rooney just 32 goals short of the former England striker, who is now a director at Old Trafford.
Given that Rooney is 28, he still has plenty of time to break both records and he is convinced he can do it.
“I spoke to Michael [Owen] at St George’s Park two days after the [Norway] game, and he wasn’t too pleased,” Rooney said on the eve of England’s first Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland in Basle.
“I watched him as a boy growing up, so to go above him in the goal scoring charts is great.
“And I’d be a fool if I didn’t look at Sir Bobby’s record and feel capable of passing him. It’s in my sights.
“Both his records have stood for a long time, and a lot of players have attempted to break them.
“Now they’re in touching distance, the two of them.
“It’s something I’d love to do. I feel I’m capable of doing it.”