It was the opening game at England’s 2014 World Cup. Italy were the opponents. In the first five minutes of the game Raheem Sterling picked up the ball just inside the Italians half and moved forward. An Italian player, as you would expect, closed him down. The Englishman easily skipped by him and carried on driving towards goal. He reached about 30 yards out and fired a shot just wide. I remember celebrating as it seriously looked as if he had beaten Gianluigi Buffon. As we all know it had not and England lost the game 2-1. At the time Sterling was only 19 years of age and seen as the future of our national team. After the game Italian star Andrea Pirlo revealed that Sterling was the only player on the pitch that caused him problems. He went on to voice his opinion on his opponent who he described as very talented. What has happened since the 2014 World Cup for Sterling? Has he fulfilled the expectation that was put on him?
Sterling returned to Liverpool after his time with the national team, Liverpool had just missed out on winning the league the season before. He had created a great understanding with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to pose a real threat on any defence in the league. Sterling started the season in fine form. He scored and provided an assist in Liverpool’s first game against Southampton. After the first five games of the campaign he had scored three goals and played in a variety of positions. He had played down both wings and as a central attacking midfielder. His electric speed posing a real threat in any area he could isolate his defender. After a bright start the young attacker failed to impress as Liverpool hit a poor run of form. They failed in Europe dropping into the Europa League after the group phases and only being playing in the one tie in Europa before being eliminated. They finished sixth in the league and reached the semi-finals of both English cups. Sterling as an individual performed steadily being involved in 52 games scoring 11 goals and creating 10. This attracted interest from other clubs.
Sterling handed in a transfer request in July 2015. His new destination was not too far away, just over the M62 to Manchester, the blue section. Sterling had wanted to leave Liverpool for a while and finally he got his move away. In City he arrived at a team that had just missed out on the title. Sterling’s first season with his new club was an average one for both parties. City finished fourth in the league, won the league cup and reached the semi finals in the Champions League. Sterling scored six goals in the league that season. But in certain games he sparked into life and showed why everybody expects so much from him. He scored a hat-trick against Bournemouth at the Etihad in a game where he was genuinely unplayable. He also inspired City to win in their home fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach. City won the game 4-2, Sterling created one and scored two. These flashes of brilliance that Sterling displays show what he could become given the right training and developing the correct mindset.
The next season saw the arrival of Pep Guardiola. Something changed in Sterling’s game when Pep arrived. While his goal scoring efforts remained similar to his previous returns his assists levels went through the roof. He scored ten goals in all competitions but achieved 21 assists. That kind of return is an achievement in itself. City’s season was one to forget but Sterling was definitely a shining star. From an English perspective having him work with Guardiola is something we should all be excited about. While he has struggled in his first year in English football, highlighting just how competitive the Premier League is, his influence on players cannot be denied. He has nurtured some of the top talent in football in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. If he can help Sterling reach a new level it would certainly benefit the national side. However, the signing of Bernardo Silva signals competition for the England star. With City releasing Jesus Navas they have replaced him with a much more potent threat to Sterling’s first team place. They also welcome back Patrick Roberts after a successful loan spell at Celtic. Raheem has started 30 games plus a season in both campaigns as City. Now the blues have options in wide areas and competition for places is rife. Sterling has the ability to play in several positions, this could work in his favour or against him.
Sterling is a fantastic talent, nobody can deny that. His pace and agility make him a huge threat to any defence. It is his final product that lets him down. If he can add a few more goals to his game this season and continue to set up chances for his team mates at the rate he did last year he will be key to any success Manchester City achieve. He needs to be careful and make sure that Guardiola has a solid plan for him this term and that he will be starting games regularly. It is vital that Sterling improves this season as there is a World Cup at the end of the season. Another year with Pep and playing regular football at elite level may put him in a position to lead his country to glory in Russia.