Yannick Bolasie grew up in the shadow of Wembley and now hopes his old ‘neighbour’ Raheem Sterling is a week away from fulfilling his and the country’s “dream”.
Sterling’s journey from local Brent schoolboy to Wembley hero with England may look short and easy on Google maps. But the Manchester City star has needed a tremendous amount of talent and determination to make it.
Few can relate to Sterling’s rise better than Bolasie, who grew up locally in the borough and played for their schoolboy side too.
But even Bolasie admits Sterling’s script is something else after he struck three times at Wembley for England in Euro 2020.
Now Sterling has a chance to return on Wednesday to his own backyard in the semi-finals– and hopefully the final – if England beat Ukraine in Rome tonight.
Bolasie said: “Right now for Raheem, he must feel like he is at home because that is his backyard.
“When I scored at Wembley it was crazy but he is doing for England as well on three different occasions. For him, let the dream roll on.
“He is really trying to bring it home. That is stuff you can’t imagine.
“If it happens, he will probably only realise after his career what he has actually done. It is incredible for England and I am so happy to see him doing that.”
Bolasie grew up three miles from Wembley in Willesden on a north London estate where he could see the stadium from his old bedroom.
He reckons Sterling, and fellow local boy Bukayo Saka would have found that very inspirational.
“I could see Wembley from my window,” said Bolasie, who is a free agent after leaving Everton.
“You could see the outline of the stadium and the lights. As a youngster you want to know what is going on in there.
“Sterling is a boy from Brent too. There was a training facility we used to use when we played for the borough which Raheem did as well.
“We used to train on a Tuesday and Friday within walking distance of Wembley.
“Saka is from Ealing but he could probably see the stadium too. It is always an extra motivation to play there.”
Sterling now has 17 goals in 65 games for England after moving from local club QPR to Liverpool and then Manchester City in 2015 for £44million.
He has since gone on to win the Premier League three times, an FA Cup and four League Cups.
Now a Euros medal would top the lot as Bolasie revealed Sterling’s career was all mapped out – even as a youngster.
Bolasie said: “I saw him when he was 14 years old on the local Stonebridge Recreation Ground. He was doing some individual training.
“I saw him do a couple of things on the ball and was like, ‘Oh, wow’.
“He had an advisor at the time when he was at QPR and they discussed how he was going to go Man City or Liverpool even at that age.
“He went to Liverpool first and developed well there and ended up getting a move to Man City. It seemed something set in stone from a young age.”
Now like the rest of the nation, Bolasie is hoping for more heroics from England, with Sterling and Saka leading the charge.
Bolasie, a DR Congo international, said: “They are fearless and ready to attack the opponent which is what I love as a player. It gives England a different kind of fear factor.”
Plus vital local knowledge, of course.