Raheem Sterling’s journey to become the star of England’s Euro 2020 campaign has taken place amid a backdrop of a deeply-entrenched media agenda which traces back to his departure from Liverpool in 2015.
As one of the historic giants of English football, Sterling’s decision to move to Manchester City – the new kids on the block, a club with a markedly smaller trophy room but significantly deeper pockets – was condemned across the media and made him a figure of scorn amongst the Liverpool supporters.
Many predicted Sterling to wilt at City, for his world-class potential – which City clearly believed in having forked out £49m for his signature – to fade into mediocrity.
A tidal wave of abuse came down on Sterling, who was labelled a snake, and the media’s reaction to his move soon translated into something more sinister, with racial undertones undoubtedly influencing the treatment of a world-class England superstar in the making.
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Shortly after his move to the Etihad Stadium Sterling, cutting a less assured version of the supremely confident and eloquent spokesperson we see today, sat down with Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves to talk about the decision-making process and the subsequent reaction to his transfer.
“The main one on my Instagram, is the snake sign. That’s the biggest one so far – I’m not trying to make a joke,” said Sterling, when asked about how he believes he was perceived at the time.
“I think someone that loves money as well and hungry for money.
“But realistically I made my decision to improve as a player, and that’s the most important thing for my development.
“I’ve just done what I thought was best for my career at that moment in time.”
Given how his Euro 2020 is panning out, it’s impossible to argue that he’s not reached what he set out to achieve.
At Manchester City he’s grown into one of the most clinical wide forwards on the planet, taking his game to new levels under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage.
The 26-year-old has scored 114 goals and provided 87 assists in 292 appearances for the club and won nine trophies (five League Cups, three Premier League titles and one FA Cup) in six years.
On the international stage with England this summer, meanwhile, Sterling has stepped up to the plate and embraced the responsibility as one of Gareth Southgate’s most experienced and senior players within what is a young and inexperienced squad.
He’s scored 75% of England’s goals at the tournament and popped up with the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Germany on Tuesday.
It was a poacher’s strike that showcased the intelligence and timing of his running into the box, a trait that he has mastered since being taken under Guardiola’s wing.
Critics may label him as a tap-in merchant, but the regularity at which he finds himself in positions to score is a skill that very few players come close to mastering during their careers.
Following years of bizarre underappreciation, perhaps Euro 2020 will be the tournament where Sterling will finally get the credit he deserves.
The bold, much-maligned decision to leave Liverpool has now been firmly vindicated.