Raheem Sterling. The £50million man just a few months ago, and now struggling to break into Manchester City's first team. What has happened to the winger that showed so much promise during his Liverpool days, and what's next for the England international?
When Sterling left Liverpool to sign for Manchester City in 2015, the player signed for a then British transfer record fee of £49m.
The player had just received the Golden Boy award which recognised him as the best player under the age of 21 in Europe.
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This season was expected to see a vast improvement from the player, but aside from a few good games early on in the season, in recent weeks and months, Sterling has seen his playing time reduced.
If you compare Sterling's main stats this season from his time at Liverpool, he's playing a lot less and contributing in front of goal less as well.
During his last season at Anfield, Sterling made 34 appearances, scoring seven goals and assisting 10. His debut season at the Etihad has seen him make 20 appearances and score just six goals, assisting a further three.
So his overall output has declined since leaving Liverpool for City. He not only scored more goals and made more assists with Liverpool, but he was also recognised more on the pitch as the best player.
Obvious comparisons can be made between Sterling and another young Englishman who showed such great early promise, Theo Walcott.
Walcott also secured a big money move to a large club at a young age but has failed to really live up to expectations placed on the player in his time with Arsenal.
During his time at Arsenal, Walcott has only managed to win two FA Cups, with both of them coming in the previous two seasons. That’s it.
It could be the same for Sterling. Why is this?
Are they built properly for football? Do they play for the team? No is the answer to both those questions.
England faces a growth problem with their young players. Early promise does not mean long-term delivery and especially not trophies, and that has translated to international football as well.
So what do we do about it? Are we rewarding the wrong type of player? Do we value pace above all of the other technical qualities?
Sterling proudly announced he was leaving Liverpool in 2015 to sign for City so he could win things. Well, one League Cup could well be all he amasses in his time at City, especially with the arrival of Pep Guardiola from next season, who might not fancy the English winger’s frustrating use of the ball and wasted chances in front of goal.
No doubt Pep will want to have a look at the player himself, but as he builds a team in his own image, maybe he will look to let the player move on and sign somebody different.
Guardiola’s teams are built on high pressure and ball retention. One tick and one cross against Sterling.
Sterling has the pace to pressure people high up the pitch and put opposition defenders into panic mode, but is his ball retention and clever use of the ball ever going to be really good enough for a Guardiola team?
The Spaniard may well find himself berating the English player for giving the ball away too often, in the same way Joe Cole would infuriate Jose Mourinho in his early time at Chelsea.
Mourinho eventually got the best out of Cole, and it could be a similar story with Sterling and Guardiola. Alternatively, the longer-term effort needed to improve Sterling’s game may have to make way for shorter-term gains as Guardiola will be expected to deliver instant wins for City.
Perhaps it's unfair, but Manuel Pellegrini’s obvious over-looking of the City wide man in recent weeks has added more fuel to the fire.
Sterling had to make do with a place on the bench as he watched his City team-mates draw 0-0 at home with Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final; the player appearing to have dropped down the pecking order behind Kelechi Ihenacho as City’s alternative forward.
If the Chilean has finally seen enough, maybe Guardiola will follow suit. Or maybe he’ll turn Sterling into the next Neymar, talented enough to be an exception in a team which must work as hard off the ball as on it.
Either way, next season will be a pivotal one for Sterling. If Guardiola doesn’t fancy him he might not have many potential suitors in England and could have to move abroad to seek to get his career back on-track.
He certainly won’t be welcome back on Merseyside.
West Ham United wonder kid Ravel Morrison used a move to Lazio to gain some playing time and that move hasn’t exactly worked out very well.
Sterling is different to Morrison, and vastly more talented, but it’s a worrying trend to see English wonder kids not really fulfilling their true potential in the ever-changing Premier League.
Will Pep Guardiola damage Raheem Sterling's career? Or can he get the best out of him? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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