Roy Hodgson always believed in Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and joked he hopes it means he will go easy on Crystal Palace this weekend.
The Eagles host the Premier League champions at Selhurst Park on Saturday in a 5.30pm kick-off with Pep Guardiola’s side in need of a reaction after losing at home to Wolves last time out.
Liverpool are already eight points clear of City and in-form Sterling will be eager to follow up his brace for England in Bulgaria when he comes up against his old international manager.
Hodgson handed the winger his international debut at the age of 17 and stuck by Sterling during some tricky times with the Three Lions.
This is all in the past now with Sterling boasting a record of 13 goals in 15 appearances in all competitions for club and country this season and a key figure for City and England.
“He was always a fantastic midfielder, a very hard worker, made good runs most of the time. I remember in Switzerland, he played in behind the front players, like he was for Liverpool, and he was quite outstanding,” Hodgson said.
“The criticism levelled at him was much to my displeasure and the attention he was getting elsewhere from social media and sometimes the media itself was draining his confidence.
“I think the big thing for Raheem is there is no drain in his confidence, there is no doubt about his ability. Of course he is playing in a team that is creating lots of chances so when he gets in the right areas he is able to score goals.
“On this subject too, I must add that his maturity as a person has been really fascinating to watch.
“All of the responsibility he has accepted and not just as a Manchester City player but shouldering a heavy burden with the racism and the attention that is being paid to this racism problem that we have.
“He has been a brilliant spokesperson. I heap praise on him in the hope he will repay me by playing very badly.”
While City enter this game with defeats to Wolves and Norwich still fresh in the memory, the hosts are one of the form teams in the division.
Palace are sixth in the table – two points off the champions – after winning four of their last six league matches.
Yet Hodgson insisted: “I don’t know that Pep needs to be worried about any team but it would be nice if they felt they needed to show us some respect.
“We know we will be stretched to the limit to give them the type of game we like to give them but it’s a challenge and it’s an exciting challenge.
Despite turning 72 in August, Hodgson admitted he still gets great pleasure from managing, although conceded he would know when is the right time to call it a day.
“I can carry on if that is the right thing to do. I will have to be convinced when the time comes that it is the right thing to do and something that I can contribute to and give me the satisfaction that the last couple of seasons have,” Hodgson added.
“At the moment I’m quite comfortable waiting to see what transpires but I’m not prepared to put a date on the day when I am going to say football has been great to me and I will move aside and let someone else have a go.
“You could argue in the long run you should be prepared to move aside but selfishly I still feel I can do it. I still enjoy it, I still get so much pleasure out of the job. I won’t walk away willingly.”
Palace will be without Mamadou Sakho (thigh) and Connor Wickham for the visit of City.