Is Raheem Sterling really that good?

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Even though the domestic season has just finished, the media push is back to spark interest for the 2015/16 campaign. Despite the ongoing Copa America and Women's World Cup, many people's focus is on the recently released fixture list and, as ever, big transfer gossip. Nowhere is this gossip louder than at Anfield and on the small matter of Raheem Sterling.

The ever-growing debacle surrounding the England international's potential move from Merseyside seems scripted by someone who wishes to highlight everything bad about the modern game: a precocious talent decides, through a combination of personal arrogance, mismanagement and club neglect, to push for a move away from the club that gave him a worldwide platform to towards a 'petro-dollar' club for whom he might not even make the first eleven. Greed, childishness, idiocy on all sides and sickening wealth - quite the quartet.

It now seems more than likely that this headline-grabbing saga will end with a move to Manchester City, but the two clubs are gridlocked over a transfer fee, with Liverpool seemingly thinking £40 million - more than City paid for Sergio Aguero, David Silva or Yaya Toure - is not market value for the player whom Brendan Rodgers once called 'the best young player in Europe'. Does Liverpool's stance make sense; is Raheem Sterling really THAT good?

Promise, then Pressure

There is no denying that, when Sterling arrived on the Premier League stage, he was an incredibly exciting talent. A wide attacker with the pace of a Walcott, the tricksy skill of a prime-years Joe Cole and a wiry strength not too dissimilar from Luis Suarez, he soon had fans fawning over him.

His first two seasons were high on promise, but low on end product. It was at the beginning of the 2013-14 season - the year when Liverpool came so close to ending their domestic title drought - that he really began to undeniably excel.

As part of a flexible attacking 'triple-S' with Sturridge and Suarez, he wreaked havoc across many defences with his clever movement, quick passing and willingness to directly attack an opposition player at great speed. His inclusion on the PFA's shortlist for Young Player of the Year was entirely justified at this point.

Fast forward a season however and, despite an equally-incredible opening, Sterling's form began to drop off. Having dragged Liverpool through early games in the absence of Sturridge and Suarez, he began a decline that saw him end the season looking a shadow of his former self.

Most quickly point to individual failings for his fall: a drop in pace and lack of willingness to engage is citing as a symptom of a 'want-away' attitude - the typical gifted sportsmen touted too highly, too quickly. There is no doubt he must take some of the blame, but he cannot be blamed for opposition teams grasping his potential impact and thus nullifying him more particularly than at any other point in his professional career.

Also, Sterling-critics should also recognise that his role has been changed by both the departures of his key attacking allies and the subsequent tactical changes brought in by Brendan Rodgers.

Where once he was almost given a free reign to attack space across the front line in tandem with two equally in-form team mates, he spent much of last campaign either in isolation as a false-nine or fixed to the right-side of a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Coutinho taking up his mantle of a free-roaming attacking midfielder.

His personal form may have dipped, but it hasn't been helped by a manager who first lauds him as a world great and then sidelines him in a team that, according to his boss, he is spearheading. Perhaps if Rodgers was less concerned about playing the tactical and PR master - the new Mourinho - he would not have another high-profile player wanting to leave Anfield.

Change of Scenery - Change of Success?

His form may have waned, but there is little doubt that Sterling was, and could be again, a great footballer for years to come. A loss of form does not mean a loss of class, but any new suitor must be wary of the eye-watering fee Liverpool want for their newest marquee player.

In truth, its size speaks not of an individual case but of a trend in professional football that has grown for years; young, idolised attacking players demand massive fees, and even more so if (in the case of the Premier League) they are home-grown. 

If and when he does leave, he will need help returning to the pedestal that Liverpool, perhaps unwisely, so quickly built for him.

Besides the personal attention that seemingly all high-profile footballers need in this age of overnight superstars and delicate egos, he needs the chance to return to a tactical system that suits his undoubted talents: a place in a fluid, attacking front-line that permits individuality but with the support of players who can help give him the space his game so clearly needs.

Liverpool's moulding of him made him a solitary star, but to be at his best, he cannot be the sole light in the sky...  

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Raheem Sterling
Manchester City
Premier League
England Football

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