Raheem Sterling left left Liverpool to join Manchester City because the Reds took him for granted, claims Citizens legend Francis Lee.
The England international brought a bitter feud with the Anfield club to an end this summer after completing a £49million move to the Etihad Stadium.
He can expect a hostile atmosphere each and every time he faces his former club, with Liverpool fans certain Sterling's move was inspired by greed rather than ambition.
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But Lee, a former chairman of Manchester City, believes Sterling would still be playing on Merseyside had to club offered to extend his contract sooner than they did.
Lee told the Mail on Sunday: "Raheem went to the World Cup in 2014 and was one of England's best players.
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Taking him for granted
"You would have thought when he got back that Liverpool would want to get him on a big contract but instead they seemed to do nothing and carry on with the £25,000-a-week contract he already had.
"What world were they living in? It wasn't the going rate for one of the best players in the England team.
"Either they were trying to sell him or they were taking him for granted. It can happen when you are a young player who has come up through the youth team and reserves. You can be mucked about."
Sterling was eventually offered a £100,000-a-week deal, but he famously turned it down and then made his decision public during an interview with the BBC. He did, however, suggest that had he been offered the same deal when Liverpool six months earlier, he almost definitely would have signed it.
Lee says he understands the 21-year-old's decision, because he experienced a similar situation during his playing days with Bolton Wanderers.
"I can relate to it. Early in my career I was top scorer at Bolton for five seasons but because I was a local boy, I was never one of the best-paid players. By the time my contract was up, they offered me five times my basic wages but it was too late for me.
"He can be a big star at this club. He is a bloody good footballer and a lot of people don't realise he's a tough little player as well. When he gets a balanced role at City, I think he will be outstanding."
Sterling will take on Chelsea in a Premier League title clash on Sunday and faces a return to Anfield on March 1 next year.
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