Raheem Sterling has developed into an outstanding role model after showing his social conscience, according to England manager Gareth Southgate.
Sterling has hit 15 Premier League goals this season, including a hat-trick against Watford last week while contributing three further strikes in Manchester City's run to the Champions League quarter-finals.
But Sterling has been impressing Southgate on and off the field. After he was racially abused in a Premier League game against Chelsea, Sterling spoke out via social media last December.
The England forward said the media's treatment of young black footballers "helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour" in an explosive Instagram post, while he has confirmed he is planning to set up a sporting and educational institute in London.
Sterling has been suggested as a contender to win the Premier League's Player of the Year award, but Southgate was keen to highlight the 24-year-old's maturity after naming him in England's squad to face Czech Republic and Montenegro in Euro 2020 qualifiers.
"He's having another outstanding season, there are other good candidates for that," Southgate told a news conference on Wednesday.
"Van Dijk is an obvious one, we'll be trying plot a way past him in the summer [in the Nations League].
"He [Sterling] has risen to every challenge. But also I'm so impressed by his maturity, speaking out on important subjects, showing social conscience in his life.
"He's developing into an outstanding role model for people to follow, and that's something you can admire. He's maturing and it's wonderful to see."
As well as Sterling, England can call upon another in-form forward for the international break with Marcus Rashford having thrived under the tutelage of Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
"Marcus scored three goals in four games for us [at the end of last year], so for me he's been playing well throughout," Southgate added.
"His potential is huge, not just because of his ability, but mentality. He wants to be one of the best, and will dedicate himself to that.
"I never saw a time that Marcus wouldn't be playing consistently and confidently. He's scoring freely, which will give him confidence, but he was first choice for us in autumn and produced really good performances for us."
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