Following a contract dispute with Liverpool which was played out in the public domain to a surprisingly high extent, Raheem Sterling is finally on the brink of fulfilling his wishes and moving to Manchester City for an astronomical fee of £49m. All eyes will be on the 20-year-old from the moment he pulls on a sky blue shirt for the first time as he deals with the sizeable baggage that comes with this transfer.
From the moment he turned down a new £100,000 per week contract in April, Sterling’s days on Merseyside appeared to be numbered. The words emerging from those around him also aroused concern, forcing the player to stress that money was not his primary concern. Not everyone believed him, and with his head seemingly turned it will be a new test at the Etihad Stadium where trophies are the aim as well as a higher pay packet.
Whether Sterling is actually worth as much as £49m is highly debatable, given his lack of form towards the end of last season and questionable finishing ability. His best form at Liverpool has been alongside Luis Suarez, with whom he linked up with superbly, but during the struggles of 2014-15 he was constantly outshone by Philippe Coutinho. However, it has not affected his standing with his bosses at both club and international level, where he remains a regular in the respective starting line-ups.
The discontent shown by Sterling has left many associated with Liverpool with a bitter taste in the mouth, including recently departed skipper Steven Gerrard. It perhaps emphasises the lack of faith shown by players that Anfield is the place to win trophies nowadays.
The first task for Sterling at Man City will be to hold down a first-team place, with competition provided by Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and David Silva. Several English players have found it tough to make an impact there in recent seasons, but Sterling must find a high level of performance immediately in order to silence his growing number of critics.
The whole saga with the Reds has threatened to give the former Queens Park Rangers academy player a reputation that he may find difficult to shake off in years to come. Once the deal is completed, it will be time for him to do his talking on the pitch and show why he was hailed as such a prodigious when he burst on to the scene with a series of fearless performances early in Brendan Rodgers’ reign before playing a major role in Liverpool’s title challenge of 2013-14.
Being the most expensive English footballer carries a great deal of pressure, and it will be fascinating to see how he responds in the early weeks of next term. Given Manuel Pellegrini’s attacking style of play and Silva’s superb eye for a pass, Sterling should thrive if he finds form. At such an early stage of his career, this move does provide an opportunity to significantly improve his game, but start badly and the vultures will soon be circling.