Raheem Sterling admitted his FA Cup final brace of goals represented a “dream come true” as the Manchester City forward inspired his side’s 6-0 rout of Watford in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
At one stage, the 24-year-old looked as if he had joined William Townley for Blackburn in 1890, Jimmy Logan for Notts County in 1894 and Stan Mortensen for Blackpool in 1953 by hitting a final hat-trick.
However, despite claiming his team’s second goal – and his first – when he appeared to provide the finishing touches to Gabriel Jesus’s 38th-minute opener, it was later given to the Brazilian who also ended the game with two goals.
Having spent much of his childhood living just a stone’s throw from Wembley, Sterling’s latest homecoming couldn’t have gone much better and he was delighted to make such a significant contribution in front of his family and friends.
“I grew up here and saw this stadium get built. It’s a massive dream come true to win trophies here,” Sterling told the BBC.
“The boys did brilliant. My goals added to the win. It was brilliant from everyone.”
Sterling finished the season with 25 goals for City in all competitions, with his superb form earning him the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award.
He also emerged as a mature and passionate voice in the fight against racism in football after being the victim of alleged abuse during a match at Chelsea in December and again during England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro in March.
His success on the field and personal growth off it are a far cry from the days when he was public enemy number one among both Liverpool and England fans.
Sterling was criticised for being greedy when he left Liverpool to join City in a lucrative 2015 transfer and earned more abuse from England supporters after a lacklustre showing in their dismal Euro 2016 campaign.
But Sterling’s heroics helped City become the first English club to win the domestic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in one season.
That remarkable achievement comes a year after they set a Premier League record by winning the title with 100 points.
Sterling saluted City boss Pep Guardiola for ensuring his squad remained focused throughout a stressful and draining campaign that saw the champions hold off a strong title challenge from Liverpool and beat Chelsea on penalties in the League Cup final.
“It shows what the manager is building here. He said we needed to get the mentality right and we did that and did it exceptionally well,” Sterling said.
“It’s been a long season with the World Cup as well but everyone has been on their A-game and come through.”