When Raheem Sterling completed his £49 million move to Manchester City from Liverpool in July 2015 it made him the most expensive English footballer of all time and ended a transfer saga that has dominated the last few months.
Whenever a major talent decides to move clubs then controversy inevitably follows and Sterling’s example was no different. His decision split football opinion across the country and left a sour taste in the mouth of Liverpool supporters who believe that the youngster pushed for a move in the wrong way.
Sterling’s transfer has ensured the eyes of the footballing world will be upon him as he adapts to life at the Etihad. Many will wonder if he can replicate the scintillating form that saw his star rise to the top of the English game. A goal three minutes into his professional debut for City against Roma is a promising sign that he might be able to.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Sterling moved to London at the age of seven and it did not take long for his talents to be unearthed. Scout Peter Moring spotted him playing for Oakington Manor School as a 10-year-old and he was quickly referred to QPR’s centre of excellence.
It was here that Sterling progressed into a major talent and he quickly became a star of the hoops youth teams. His performances meant he represented the Under-18’s when he was only 14 and youth boss Steve Gallen dubbed the team ‘Raheem Park Rangers’ because of his ability to win matches on his own.
However, when a promising young player emerges onto the scene it usually does not take long for the sharks to circle and unsurprisingly the big clubs started to look at Sterling. Frank McParland, the then Liverpool academy boss, brought the player to the attention of manager Rafael Benitez and he was quickly invited to Melwood for a meeting. Both parties were impressed and in February 2010 a fee of £600,000 was agreed with QPR meaning Sterling became a Liverpool player.
Sterling’s impressive form continued in the Liverpool youth system and five goals in one game against Southend in 2011 meant that he was included in the first-team squad that travelled to Sparta Prague for a Europa League fixture. He did not feature in the match but his performances meant he was on the verge of a senior debut at the age of 16.
A year later Sterling made his first-team debut for the Reds when he came on as a second half substitute in a Premier League defeat to Wigan. At 17 years and 107 days he became the third youngest player in the Reds history and soon started to establish himself in the side.
The 2012-13 season was a breakthrough year for Sterling under the management of Brendan Rodgers. The attacker scored his first goal for Liverpool in a 1-0 victory over Reading and was rewarded for his performances with a call up to the England team. In December 2012 he signed a contract extension committing his long-term future to Liverpool.
Sterling’s continued to develop in the 2013-14 season and he was an integral part of Liverpool’s title challenge that year. His pace and trickery meant he became a regular and he formed one part of the Anfield side’s front three, combining with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to devastating affect. Sterling scored nine league goals and became something of a big game player with goals against Arsenal, Tottenham and his new employers Manchester City. Sterling’s performances saw him rewarded with a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. He was also chosen in England’s 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where he was one of the only players to leave the tournament with any credit.
The departure of Suarez from Anfield in the summer of 2014 meant there was an added level of expectation on Sterling’s shoulders going into the Premier League season. The pressure did not appear to affect him though and he remained one of the club’s top performers, scoring two goals in the first three games of the campaign. In December 2014 he received the Golden Boy Award from a pan-European panel of sports journalists who recognized him as the best U-21 player in Europe.
However, during the second half of the 2014-15 season, Sterling’s performances were inconsistent and it seemed as though he was already thinking about life after Liverpool. After a long tussle with the club that left his relationship with the supporters shattered, he eventually secured a move to Manchester City in July 2015 for a record fee.
It remains clear that Sterling has the potential to be a truly world class player. He has received plaudits from across the football world and his record for a 20-year-old is truly exceptional. Manuel Pellegrini believes he is one of the best attacking players in world football and if he combines with Sergio Aguero as he did with Suarez and Sturridge at Liverpool then Manchester City could be incredibly difficult to stop. However, it is also clear that for Sterling to become the player he has the ability to be then he must perform on a more consistent basis. His move to the Etihad should provide him with the hunger needed to do this.