Raheem Sterling: From zero to hero
Following a controversial transfer from Liverpool, a poor debut season at Manchester City and a dismal Euro 2016 campaign, many had written off Raheem Sterling as another promising young English talent to descend into mediocrity.
Many thought he'd be on the chopping block when Pep Guardiola arrived at City, but fast forward three years and he's among the first names on the team sheet. Widely regarded as one of the world's best wingers, Raheem Sterling's journey is a testament not only to the genius of Guardiola, but to Sterling himself.
Nominated as the 2014 Golden Boy, many expected Sterling to cement his place as one of the world's best attackers in the coming years. Criticism of his exit from Liverpool gave him a "spoiled kid" perception to fans. The talent was no doubt there, after all, it was he along with Suarez and Sturridge that formed the devastating trio that took the Premier League by storm. Yet he never seemed to kick on following that near-title winning season for Liverpool, going on a downward spiral instead.
Sterling had a disappointing debut season at City following a big money move, with a lack of end product and poor finishing being the chief causes of concern. Not only this, but among a poor England squad, he was made to be a scapegoat for their poor run in the European Championships. Once touted for greatness, Sterling seemed doomed to be added to a long list of promising English talents gone to waste. The names Ravel Morrison and Jack Wilshere come to mind.
But following the lows of 2016, Sterling is a player reborn as the 2018/2019 season comes to a close. A massive factor, of course, has been Pep Guardiola. It's highly inconceivable that Sterling would have hit the heights that he has today without the coaching of Guardiola.
Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Fernandinho, and Kevin De Bruyne are among those who have gone up a level with the Spaniard's arrival. But these are household names, established stars who were already recognized as world class players prior to the arrival of Pep at City. On the other hand, Sterling was among those considered to be expendable in a City team packed with talent, especially after the arrivals of Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva. Yet looking at Raheem Sterling now, he's anything but expendable. In fact, he is arguably THE go to man in a star-studded Manchester City team.
Judging by sheer numbers, Sterling contributed to 18 goals and 11 assists for Manchester City in their record-breaking title win. So far this season, Sterling has 17 goals and 9 assists in the league. Highly impressive numbers for a winger, but it's the manner in which he scores his goals that's indicative of Pep's influence on him.
Several of Sterling's goals come from simple one touch tap ins within the penalty box, highlighting his footballing intelligence and tactical positioning. Many of his goals come due to simply being in the right place at the right time, but like gliding past a defender and scoring a header, positioning yourself tactically is a skill in itself.
Prior to Pep's arrival, I found that Sterling was a player whose main objective was to receive the ball at his feet and take on players in an old-school winger type of manner. While this is certainly still his game, it is his tactical nous that has taken him to another level.
Take his first goal against Tottenham in the Champions League quarterfinal 2nd leg for example, where he received the ball to feet and turned Trippier inside-out, bending a delightful finish into the far corner. He's certainly still capable of spectacular moments but it was his second goal, a mere tap in, that zeroes in on his rejuvenation as a player. Simplicity at its best.
This influence even carried over to England's World Cup campaign, where again many were quick to point him out as a weak-link within the team. A lack of killer instinct was a cause of concern, and while he was goalless throughout the tournament, he played a pivotal role as it was his movement that opened up space for the likes of Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard. His club form has recently been reflected in his England performances as well, with a brace against Spain in the UEFA Nations League illustrating how he can is beginning to take his game to the international stage as well.
One of the favourites to win PFA Player of the Year, Raheem Sterling has made great strides in the past couple of seasons. He's come a long way since his days at Liverpool and at just 24, the only way is up for the dynamic winger.