Raheem Sterling woke up “fuming” after a PR company connected to him claimed he would captain England in their Nations League semi-final against Holland.
A press release circulated late on Tuesday evening suggested the Manchester City forward would lead out the Three Lions to mark the occasion of his 50th cap.
There was no official confirmation from the Football Association at the time, while manager Gareth Southgate remained tight-lipped over who would wear the armband when he addressed the media on the eve of the Holland clash.
The press release read: “The Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year is set to wear the Captain’s armband for England’s UEFA Nations League semi-final fixture against The Netherlands in Portugal, on Thursday evening, 6th June.”
But Sterling insisted he knew nothing of the release and had not spoken to anyone, including Southgate, before Tuesday evening – revealing he apologised to the England boss when he realised what had happened.
“I couldn’t tell you that,” Sterling replied when asked what had prompted the release.
“I woke up this morning fuming. I hadn’t had a conversation with Gareth or anyone in my agency, so it was a strange one to wake up to.
“The first thing I did after I came off the phone to my agent was see Gareth down the hallway, and I apologised to him for what had happened. I don’t know where that’s come from.”
Southgate would not be drawn on who would captain his side in Guimaraes, given there are fitness concerns over regular skipper Harry Kane.
The Tottenham forward appeared jaded as he made his first start for seven weeks in Saturday’s 2-0 Champions League defeat to Liverpool.
Southgate refused to rule Kane out of the contest against the Dutch and would not give away any of his team selection in advance so as not to give Holland boss Ronald Koeman an advantage.
“If I confirm anything about the team other than that Raheem is playing, I’m doing half of Ronald’s job for him,” he said.
“I don’t want to discuss the captaincy. Harry Kane is our captain. If he doesn’t play, then I have a decision to make. I’m not prepared to say whether Harry Kane is playing tomorrow.”
While the decision is Southgate’s to make, Sterling – who will collect his 50th cap at the age of 24 – said he would be proud to captain his country at some point.
“That’s something that’s down to the manager, not for me to decide,” he said.
“But if the manager did do that, it’s something I’d be proud and happy to do for sure. That’s up to the manager.”
Sterling has enjoyed a fine season for club and country, having lifted a domestic treble with Manchester City, earning the Football Writers Footballer of the Year award and reinvigorating his England career.
The former Liverpool man had scored just two goals in his first 45 senior caps before hitting six in his last four appearances.
He struck a brace as England won 3-2 in Spain on their way to reaching the Nations League finals and followed that up with a Wembley hat-trick in a 5-1 Euro 2020 qualifying win against the Czech Republic.
Having been criticised in some circles as England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer, Sterling admits he hit the reset button after the tournament and hailed his goals against Spain as a watershed moment.
“I feel grown up,” he said.
“I’ve watched a lot of England games and I always had a dream to play for them. I never thought I’d be in with a chance to make a 50th cap.
“It is a massive achievement for me and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and so will my family.
“Spain was a massive turning point for me, to break my duck. A massive highlight was being part of that World Cup squad, being able to go so far in the tournament, but disappointed not to go the full way. It’s a learning curve, something we’ll take into the game tomorrow.
“At 17 or 18 years of age, I wasn’t looking at my goals to games ratio. I wanted to enjoy it and be free.
“It was only a few years ago that I realised how bad my record was with England. I put pressure on myself to end that drought, which wasn’t a great thing to do.
“I spoke with the manager and the other players and I’m just glad I’ve broken that drought now.”