RAHEEM STERLING knew from the first minute he trained with Jadon Sancho that the teen was destined for the top.
The pair were on opposite sides during a pre-season training match at the City Football Academy almost three years ago.
Sterling was told to play full-back and mark the young winger — and it did not take him long to realise he had a major job on his hands.
Sancho turned his fellow wideman inside out, so much so the former Liverpool star feared he had suffered a back injury.
Manchester City ace Sterling, 24, said: “The first day I’d seen him training with us, I was really happy to see such a talent.
“I always knew he’d become the player he has, for sure. From minute one.
“I was playing right-back one day in pre-season training and he spun me and I nearly did my back in.”
Sancho, who turns 19 on Monday, might now look at Sterling as something of a role model as he looks to build on his amazing start at Borussia Dortmund.
But Sterling smiled as he said: “I want to be like him! He’s a great talent and I’m really happy for him.”
Sterling’s superb form for City was one of the reasons why Sancho feared he might not get a chance under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad.
Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool all wanted him but the starlet chose instead to back his bags and head for Germany and the Bundesliga.
Sterling made a big move himself as a teenager, leaving his family and friends behind in North London to switch to Anfield from QPR.
So he liked the way young Sancho was thinking when he made up his mind to leave City.
Sterling told Sport360: “When he first mentioned to me he was thinking about going abroad, even though he was a City player, I was happy to hear that from him.
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“To see that confidence, it reminded me of myself when I went to Liverpool. To have a couple of London teams and Liverpool to go to, I chose the further option, to have the time out away from my friends.
“So when he said that to me about going, I knew he had a massive chance to go on to do big things.
“I wouldn’t say it’s about being scared or frightened in taking a risk but being mainly content, mainly at ease and he’s gone on and taken a step forward. I’m just really happy to see him doing so well.
“He’s doing massive things and I hope he stays level-headed and keeps working and keeps learning.”
Sancho has 12 assists in the Bundesliga this season at Dortmund — equal with Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for the most across Europe’s top five leagues. For the record, Sterling is on nine in the Premier League.
Sterling and Sancho have stayed in contact, partly because they are now team-mates with the Three Lions.
Yesterday they met up again at St George’s Park as Gareth Southgate’s England squad prepare for their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Czech Republic and Montenegro.
And Sterling is happy to share his own experiences of life at the top with a young player, having been through so much himself.
He said: “On the field you don’t need to be level-headed. Be as arrogant as you want.
“For me, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and think the best of his ability because that ability can take him all the way to the top. Off the field he is a top lad. Off the field is the one thing I try to help him with advice.”
With just five years separating Sterling and Sancho, the pair could be sharing an England dressing room for many years to come.
And the City ace is convinced the Three Lions can end the long wait for silverware after reaching the last four of the World Cup in Russia.
He said: “That’s the ultimate — lifting a trophy with England. But we don’t want to get too carried away with ourselves.
“We still have to work hard. With the players we have now and coming through, we have a massive chance.
“We had a great World Cup campaign but, hopefully, we can do better. We came so close to winning it and I was confident we could win it.
“I had seen how we had gone through, how we were playing. Even if I didn’t score, that was the most important thing for us.
“Forget about me on a personal term, to see the country go far after so long, I was happy to be a part of it and to play a part.”
The preparations for next year’s Euros start in earnest this week and Sterling has not given up hope that one day he could help England to World Cup glory.
He added: “The next World Cup in Qatar is a long way away but all I can do until then is get better, grow as a person, grow as a player.
“And when that comes around, to think about that, at that moment.”