With Messi, 32, and Ronaldo, 34, entering the twilight of their careers, the race to overtake the superstar duo to be the world's best footballer is hotting up.
And England boss Southgate believes Sterling has that capacity.
He said: "In terms of can he fulfil it, he'll give himself every chance of doing that. There are obviously some outstanding players around, the [Eden] Hazards, the [Kevin] De Bruynes, Messi and Ronaldo. But he's got the drive, he's got the professionalism, he's got the ability. He's physically and mentally strong for such a small statured lad."