Raheem Sterling’s boot camp of hill sprints and Judo sessions! How the Chelsea star got himself back to top form and back into contention for England

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When Raheem Sterling was left out of the last England squad, the message from Gareth Southgate was that the winger was unhappy with his fitness. 

He’d carried a hamstring injury and wasn’t at the level he wanted to be. Sterling preferred, instead, to focus on getting his body ready for the new season.

They never, apparently, got around to the question of whether Sterling should make the squad, after his first season at Chelsea produced only nine goals in all competitions. 

As England spent their June dispatching Malta and North Macedonia, Sterling spent it racing up hills in a Surrey country park with members of Camberley Judo Club and a Commonwealth Games silver medallist.

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The video is incredible to watch. Sterling, arms pumping, accelerates up the steep dusty slope at Lightwater Country Park alongside Fin Allan, who took judo silver in the Birmingham Games last year. In a matter of seconds, Sterling pulls away, Allan scrambling in his dust.

Raheem Sterling Sterling spent part of his summer racing up hills in a Surrey country park with members of Camberley Judo Club

Raheem Sterling Sterling spent part of his summer racing up hills in a Surrey country park with members of Camberley Judo Club

Chelsea star also tried his hand on the mat with Judo sessions with experienced practitioners

Chelsea star also tried his hand on the mat with Judo sessions with experienced practitioners

Raheem Sterling scored his first goals of the season for Chelsea against Luton Town on Friday

Raheem Sterling scored his first goals of the season for Chelsea against Luton Town on Friday

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It’s Sterling, again, who later emerges first at the top of the hill with the chasing pack of topless judoka struggling behind. 

You suspect they may have enjoyed greater success when they faced Sterling back in the gym on the judo mat. Good practice, mind, for when those lumbering Premier League defenders try to wrestle him to the ground.

Not that Luton’s could even lay a hand on him on Friday night. Sterling scored twice and set up another in Chelsea’s first win under Mauricio Pochettino. His first goal was a thing of beauty, cutting in from the right into the box, past three defenders and into the bottom corner.

All that work over the summer appears to have paid off. It was a flashback to the old Sterling, one we’ve not seen in a while. 

It’s easy to forget, amid the flurry of Todd Boehly’s billion-pound spending spree, that Sterling was the first marquee signing of the era. The chaos around the club didn’t help either.

Sterling admits his head was ‘blurry’. He suffered a hamstring injury. He’s had to rediscover his ‘obsession’ with football.

‘I came in a difficult period, that’s all finished now,’ said Sterling on Sky Sports on Friday night. ‘The most important thing is I’ve had a look at myself and I’m a person who always tries to analyse what I’ve been doing, what I’ve done wrong, what I can change. I want to get back to being obsessed with football. Football 24/7 and nothing else, focusing on top performance and goals and assists.

The 28-year-odl has also been a fixture in Gareth Southgate's England squads, but found himself out of the reckoning after a disappointing season

The 28-year-odl has also been a fixture in Gareth Southgate’s England squads, but found himself out of the reckoning after a disappointing season

Sterling was an unlikely participant in the workouts

Sterling was pictured during a session at Camberley Judo Club as he sought to regain fitness

Sterling was pictured during a session at Camberley Judo Club as he sought to regain fitness

The England star gave credit to Mauricio Pochettino for his promising start to the campaign

The England star gave credit to Mauricio Pochettino for his promising start to the campaign

‘I said [to myself] lots happened in your career, a new challenge, coming to a challenge is difficult and your head can be a bit blurry and you need that clear to see exactly what you want. 

‘My love of football is too much to fizzle out at this age, at 28. I want to make sure I’m maintaining the standards I’ve set for the last few years and keep going.’

This is a player, after all, who had reached double figures for Premier League goals in the five seasons before his move to Chelsea.

It was not just judo and hill runs that helped Sterling clear his head and find his feet but also a chat with Pochettino.

‘I had a conversation with the gaffer earlier last week and we’ve gone through the role, and I know exactly what he needs from me and it’s as simple as that,’ said Sterling.

‘My feeling all last season was I was too deep and playing the ball to the full-backs. We had a simple conversation. He said: ‘Raheem, it doesn’t matter where you play, if you are dynamic and aggressive, no one can stop you. It doesn’t matter left, right, centre, just be aggressive with the ball. I have got the desire and hunger to do that.’

Sterling declared too that he wants to be Chelsea’s top scorer this season. That’s the target.

Team-mate Nicolas Jackson might have something to say about that. Sterling set up the Senegal international against Luton for his first Chelsea goal.

Sterling has been part of a new-look frontline alongside summer signing Nicolas Jackson

Sterling has been part of a new-look frontline alongside summer signing Nicolas Jackson

The 22-year-old Jackson, who joined in a £30million deal from Villarreal this summer, is carrying the burden of Chelsea’s attack following injury to Christopher Nkunku.

His early performances led former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge to liken him to Blues hero Didier Drogba.

‘I’m very happy,’ said Jackson. ‘But right now you can’t compare me to him because he’s a legend, a huge figure you can only compare when I finish my career.’

For now it’s still all about Sterling. Southgate names his England squad on Thursday. If his start to the season is any marker, their conversation this time around will likely end with an agreement that England’s squad will be stronger with this Sterling in it.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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