There are some players who, regardless of their performances, seem to be brought up as examples of footballers who lack the requisite talent to justify their places in the professional game. Raheem Sterling is one such player.
Since he burst onto the scene as a youngster playing for Liverpool, Sterling has had supporters and detractors in equal parts. Even this season, despite his blistering start to the season in a Manchester City team who can’t stop scoring, there are those who view his career as a disappointing waste of a talent.
Harry Brooks recounts the career of the England international, asking whether or not it is time that Sterling was appreciated more?
Despite beginning his career at Queens Park Rangers, Raheem Sterling only really broke onto the scene after he joined Liverpool in 2010. Signed by Rafael Benitez for £600,000 with the possibility for his fee to rise to £5million depending on appearances, Sterling was seen as a wunderkind who had all the potential in the world.
On the 24th March 2012, Sterling made his first-team debut for Liverpool, coming on as a substitute against Wigan Athletic. At the time, he was just 17 years and 107 days old, making him Liverpool’s third youngest player to ever make a competitive appearance. The following season, Sterling scored his first competitive goal, a strike from the edge of the box in a 1-0 win versus Reading.
Despite being just a teenager, Sterling came to play a big part for Liverpool. With his dribbling ability and pace, he was giving far more experienced players the run around. However, his inexperience also came to the fore with his end product and decision bringing the youngster under criticism from pundits. That said, his talent and potential was there for all to see.
Going Close with Liverpool
The season after is when Sterling really started to live up to the hype, playing a crucial role in the title charge which saw Liverpool fall just short at the final hurdle. That season, the winger struck up a brilliant partnership with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, being involved in many of the magic moments Liverpool produced that season.
However, it was the 2014/15 season where Sterling became really integral to Liverpool. Having sold Suarez to Barcelona, Sterling’s influence and importance to the side grew and grew. At that time, he was often deployed in the False Nine position in a bid to provide creativity and ammunition for the Reds.
Sterling ended the campaign with 11 goals, one more than his previous best in the 2013/14 season, and was offered a new contract as a reward. That was when Manchester City came calling.
Life in Manchester
With Sterling rejecting Liverpool’s new contract offer, the Reds had little choice but to sell the English international to Manchester City, a transfer which went through for £49 million. The move was instantly met with widespread disgust, with many fans labelling Sterling a ‘disgrace’ and a ‘traitor’ to a club who had made him what he was.
Sterling cut an inconsistent figure in his first season at the new club. His goal tally of six goals did little to help quash the noise from those claiming he was over-rated. Despite still only being 20 years old, Sterling was yet to live up to the potential that saw him categorised as one of the finest young players in European football. His end product was often erratic or rushed and he was fast becoming seen as a player who promised much but delivered little.
However, since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Etihad, Sterling has started to mature into the player everyone thought he could be. The Englishman scored 10 goals in all competitions in Pep’s first season, one fewer than the campaign before. His performances, though, were far more consistent and the youngster quickly proved that he could fit into Guardiola’s strict, flexible and demanding tactical set ups.
Finally Taking Off
It is his start to this season that should dispel any myth that he is just a fast winger with not much else. Even in a few games, Sterling has gone from being a goal-every-five-games player to finding the net seven times in 10 games in all competitions. His six Premier League goals so far puts him joint second on the Premier League top scorers list alongside such names as Harry Kane and Alvaro Morata.
Sterling is scoring important goals too. It was his last-gasp strike away to Bournemouth that saw the Citizens leave with all three points in a 2-1 win. This was followed by an equaliser in the last ten minutes at home to Everton, a goal that ensured Manchester City have remained unbeaten this campaign.
It is not simply in front of goal that Sterling is excelling this season: the former Liverpool man is also playing 1.4 key passes and making 1.9 dribbles per game. His creative talents were on show against Stoke City at the weekend as Sterling created two of Manchester City’s seven goals.
Where are the Plaudits?
The England international is still a tricky player, capable of going past anyone, but now his end product is providing substance to the promise. Sterling can play all across the forward line and under many different tactical structures. His movement and appreciation of where the ball is going to be is exceptional, a factor which is leading to him having more chances.
And yet, despite his extremely impressive start to the season, his name is rarely mentioned as being one of the players of the season so far. Instead, the plaudits at City have gone to Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, among others. Their praise has been fully justified of course, but it is surprising how seldom Sterling is being mentioned as well.
Guardiola was always aware of Sterling’s talents and importance to his side. When Arsenal insisted on Sterling being included in any deal for Alexis Sanchez, Guardiola flat out refuted the suggestion and walked away from the deal.
Unpopular to the End?
Why then does the scepticism about Raheem Sterling continue? Perhaps it is his performances for England? Sterling has rarely played well for his national side but, then again, very few players have and it seems unfair to judge a player on the basis of their international performances.
It could be down to the way he left Liverpool. It is well-known that football fans are ruthless and unlikely to forget it when a player shuns their team for another. Of course, Sterling did make mistakes with the way he handled the contract situation at Liverpool. However, at the time he was just 20 years old.
Of course, this doesn’t suit the ‘bad boy’ narrative the British media seemed to have pinned on the youngster. Raheem Sterling remains a player where any mistake or loss of form will be treated as proof of an inherent lack of talent. However, on this season’s showing, this is no longer true. Sterling is a player who is finally living up to his potential and it is time we appreciated him for it.
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