“If there was an opportunity to go elsewhere for more playing time, I would be open to it,” Raheem Sterling said in October.
“As an English player, all I know is the Premier League and I have always thought that maybe one day I would love to play abroad.”
These words from Sterling were not just a passing answer to questions about his career ambitions. They were a quiet way to inform Pep Guardiola that he was not happy with his peripheral role in the Man City project this season.
It’s easy to forget how much headache Sterling gave his manager in the worst way at the beginning of the campaign after the afternoon when Sterling shines like today.
Sterling sends out his first half / James Gill – Danehouse / GettyImages
In the 2-0 home win over Burnley in October – at the end of the week when Sterling made these comments – he cut a desolate figure. In fact, the Englishman’s display in the first half against Sean Dyche’s men was so disappointing that Guardiola changed him during the break. As a result, City’s performance improved less involved.
However, two months is a long time in football. From villain to hero, Sterling is now a central figure in City’s quest to retain the Premier League title.
He has now made four straight league appearances for Guardiola’s team, adding to his fifth of his last four appearances by sealing City’s 6-3 win over Leicester from a Ruben Dias knockout. He is a player full of confidence in the purest sense, exemplified by his windy run into the penalty box in the early substitutions that made Marc Albrighton faint.
It was the aspect of Sterling’s play that had eluded him in the early parts of the campaign. The goal instinct has never really been questioned. It also helps explain why Man City are reportedly set to sanction the sale of Ferran Torres despite the lack of pure goal opportunities in the meantime.
Guardiola wants his players to be multifaceted to contribute to the overall performance. Before his injury, Torres had started to gain a reputation for being the closest Guardiola had a real No. 9. Apparently, the closer a player will be to an out-and-out goal scorer under the Spaniard, the more they will be marginalized in his plans.
The problem for Sterling at the beginning of the campaign was that he did not do either. His general game was suffering and he went seven games without a goal in the Premier League during the autumn.
Sterling and Guardiola / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / GettyImages
Now, however, he seems to have rediscovered his dizziness. Guardiola deserves praise for putting his unwavering confidence in the English national team player and the player’s camp will note the urgency in which Torres is sent out to create even more opportunities for the outside in the meantime.
Sterling’s performance in the victory over Foxes is exactly what Guardiola demands. The Englishman knows Guardiola more than most after five and a half seasons under him and, on the evidence from the speedster’s latest form, he may be set on surviving him at the Etihad Stadium.
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