On his first day as Liverpool manager in October 2015, Jurgen Klopp stressed how it’s much more important about what people think of you when you leave rather than when you first come in.
Just a few months earlier, the Reds cut ties with Raheem Sterling, who completed a £49million move to Manchester City in a transfer saga that brought a lot of mess to play.
Sterling earlier rejecting an offer believed to be in the region of £100,000-a-week prompted him to give an interview – not authorised by Liverpool – that he wasn’t ‘a money grabbing 20-year-old’, while his former agent Aidy Ward verbally sparred with just about anyone who had an opinion on the matter.
The circus had a negative effect on Sterling’s reputation, and he seemed burdened by it all having made an average start to life at the Etihad Stadium, scoring just six Premier League goals in his first season.
England’s disastrous Euro 2016 in the summer saw Sterling bear the brunt of the national outrage – a Just Giving page was even set up to bring him back to Blighty after his bad performances in France.
But the arrival of Pep Guardiola to Manchester City proved to be a key moment in Raheem Sterling’s career getting back on track.
However, it’s easy to forget that Guardiola’s first season wasn’t without its setbacks as City didn’t secure their place in the top four until the final day of 2016/17.
Like the rest of the team, Sterling needed time to adapt to their new manager’s ultra demanding methods. The following season was a totally different story.
City blew everyone out of the water in 2017/18, finishing 19 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
The team was a different animal and so was Sterling, who was a regular in the starting XI. He scored 23 goals, 18 of them in the Premier League.
Doubts about him still lingered going into the 2018 World Cup as Sterling failed to score in the tournament which saw so many England players exceed expectations.
But on one cold December night later that year, people’s perceptions of Sterling changed.
He was subject to vile racist abuse during a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea, which resulted in a lifetime ban for one supporter. Sterling’s response was exemplary, causing the football world to rally around a player who had previously divided opinion.
The episode has made him a leading figure in raising awareness for racism in football and society as a whole. The subject is still very much on the lips of the everyone involved in football now.
This has certainly silenced those who may have thought Sterling was a bad egg and more are starting to appreciate just how good a player he is.
Sterling played a key role in Man City winning the domestic treble in 2018/19, as well as the Premier League and Carabao Cup double in the 2020/21 season.
He’s won nine major honours as a City player, including four Premier League crowns. Sterling also has individual accolades to boast, including the PFA League Young Player of the Year award and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year.
The 27-year-old is part of an elite group of players to have netted at least 100 goals under Guardiola having scored 120 times under the Spaniard’s premiership. Sergio Aguero and the great Lionel Messi are the only other players on that esteemed list.
Euro 2020 last summer was another major breakthrough for Sterling as he went from England’s scapegoat five years earlier to their mini-talisman having scored the Three Lions’ first three goals of the tournament, including the opener in their win over Germany in the last-16.
Things haven’t gone the way Sterling would’ve liked since just missing out on glory for England despite the fact he’s collected a yet another Premier League winners’ medal.
Sterling struggled for game time in 2021/22, starting just 23 league matches and five in the Champions League.
It’s understood Sterling is looking for a new challenge as he looks to secure regular football ahead of the 2022 World Cup in the winter, with Chelsea said to be closing in on him.
This would mark a return to the capital for Sterling, who spent much of his childhood there before Liverpool snapped him up from QPR as a 15-year-old.
He left London as a boy with all the talent you could want but came with a fair bit of baggage. Now he comes back as the man that Chelsea and England can always count on.
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