Manchester City may have paid $76 million to sign Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, but of the estimated $700 million they have spent on transfers since Arab billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan took over the club – much of it wasted – this could be its best buy yet.
City have some truly world-class players, but apart from the time they signed Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez six years ago and Sergio Aguero two years later, very few new arrivals have created the sort of buzz Sterling is generating.
Apart from being the most expensive player in the world aged under age 21, Sterling may also save City manager Manuel Pellegrini from the sack. Pellegrini only just hung on to his job last season and is under no illusions that unless results improve, his time at the Etihad is over.
To be fair, Toure’s absence at the start of the year while on international duty for Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, was the main reason City’s challenge on Chelsea for the Premiership crumbled. Of the six matches Toure missed, City lost four and drew the other two.
Too many expensive signings have turned out to be mediocre at best for City, something which is reflected in their inconsistency in the domestic game and the reason why they have never made an impact in the Champions League.
As well as on the wing, Sterling is equally adept as an attacking midfielder. City players already in that position and likely to be released this summer are Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas. Both have been typical City signings – only sporadically proving their worth.
Great things are expected from Jamaica-born Sterling who at 20 has plenty of time to peak. On a weekly salary of more than $250,000, the hope is he will elevate City to be a force in Europe too. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are City’s main domestic rivals, and Sterling’s addition could tip the balance next season in the Premier League.
Chelsea winning it by a stretch again is no longer a forgone conclusion.
Brilliant from an early age
Sterling meets many criteria for City because he is English, so fulfils their home-grown quota. He is also a marquee name, established England international, proven goal scorer and when on top of his game, virtually unstoppable. Sterling arrived in England from Maverley, Kingston, at age seven. He showed his amazing qualities even as a 10-year-old for Queens Park Rangers, providing ample scoring opportunities for gigantic centre-forward Uche Ikpeazu, who remains in the game and has just joined Port Vale on loan from Watford. He has a bright future too and may one day partner Sterling in the Premier League.
When Sterling joined Liverpool from Rangers as a 15-year-old, he was unsure whether it was the right move, although it was a much bigger club with an enviable history. The first time he visited Anfield, Sterling said he was so impressed by the stadium’s size and quality that he had no doubts it would be a fruitful move. It certainly was.
Five years on after 129 appearances and 23 goals for the Reds, his game can rise another notch playing alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero, Toure, David Silva and Wilfried Bony.
Champions League action will also enhance his game matching skills against the world’s finest.
At City’s unveiling of the brilliant winger on Wednesday, Sterling showed admirable maturity, thanking the three managers he played under at Anfield – Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers.
The fact that he gave Rodgers a glowing tribute is a testament to his understanding of football politics because Sterling was clearly at odds with him for months at the end. It was an obvious attempt to clear the air and probably lower the hostility levels when City visit Anfield.
Before making his England debut three years ago, Sterling was courted by Jamaica to represent them. Turning out for the Reggae Boyz was never a serious consideration, but Jamaicans will always claim him as their own. Who wouldn’t?