Car­ragher Ster­ling worth huge pay deal

Manch­ester derby gives for­ward a chance to show he should be lauded as much as Owen, Beck­ham and Rooney

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Given his out­stand­ing form, you would imag­ine Raheem Ster­ling to be in a pe­riod of his ca­reer where he is re­ceiv­ing uni­ver­sal praise. In­stead, to­mor­row’s Manch­ester derby is pre­ceded by crit­i­cal head­lines, a bril­liant Cham­pi­ons League per­for­mance over­shad­owed by a con­tentious penalty in­ci­dent. This seems to be the way with Raheem. For some rea­son, there is of­ten a cause to find faults rather then cel­e­brate his ta­lent.

If I was play­ing in a match and the ref­eree wrongly gave my team a penalty, there is no way I would want the team-mate in­volved telling the of­fi­cial he should not give it. Would I – or any de­fender – tell the ref­eree to give a penalty if I made a foul in the box but it was deemed a fair tackle? No chance.

Hav­ing said that, I wish Raheem had been in­spired by that fa­mous Rob­bie Fowler episode against Arse­nal in 1997, when he pleaded with the ref not to pe­nalise David Sea­man. Not be­cause it was his duty to tell the of­fi­cials they got it wrong, but be­cause it would help shift pub­lic opin­ion of Raheem.

As I sat in a pub in Lon­don last sum­mer, watch­ing Eng­land’s World Cup game against Colom­bia, the neg­a­tiv­ity to­wards him was shock­ing. When he was subbed, there were fans boo­ing his per­for­mance. How could the re­ac­tion to such a promis­ing young player reach that point? I was one of those who felt he was not at his best in Rus­sia and could have been left out, but the anger di­rected at him was ex­treme.

Per­cep­tions of Ster­ling are un­founded. The ac­ri­mony around the move to Manch­ester City – or, more specif­i­cally, the man­ner in which his rep­re­sen­ta­tives went about se­cur­ing it – un­doubt­edly trig­gered some of that. I was crit­i­cal of his agent. He had a go back. Fair enough. I stand by my com­ments.

It was my view that Raheem owed Liver­pool a bit more. Hav­ing been signed from Queens Park Rangers at 15 and given a de­but at 17, he be­came part of a ti­tle-chal­leng­ing team, giv­ing him the plat­form to be fast-tracked into the Eng­land squad. With Liver­pool en­dur­ing a bad year af­ter Luis Suarez’s sale, he could have stayed and be­come the club’s main man.

He was sold for £49mil­lion – a mas­sive fee for his age. When it went through, all sides were con­tent. I still be­lieve much of what led to it was un­nec­es­sary, but never felt Raheem should take the ma­jor por­tion of blame for that. There was dam­age to his rep­u­ta­tion be­cause of it. It was too easy to put his move down to greed rather than am­bi­tion when sto­ries about con­tract de­mands reg­u­larly ap­peared.

No mat­ter how it came about – or how un­palat­able to Liver­pool sup­port­ers to lose such an im­por­tant player – there is not one who can look at how his ca­reer has pro­gressed and say he made the wrong de­ci­sion. He left for foot­balling rea­sons, given where Liver­pool stood at the time and the di­rec­tion City were head­ing. Raheem was guar­an­teed to com­pete for the Pre­mier League and Cham­pi­ons League ev­ery sea­son, and work un­der one of the best man­agers of all time.

Since Pep Guardi­ola ar­rived, Raheem’s game has gone up a level so he now ranks along­side Harry Kane as Eng­land’s best player. The dif­fer­ence is that Kane has taken club form on to the in­ter­na­tional stage. Raheem’s next chal­lenge is to make his re­cent per­for­mance against Spain a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

His re­cent statis­tics bode well. Only one other Pre­mier League player, Mo­hamed Salah, has a greater com­bined goals and as­sist record since the start of last sea­son. Ster­ling has 24 goals and 16 as­sists. There has been a mas­sive improve­ment in pro­duc­tiv­ity un­der Guardi­ola, but what is most ex­cit­ing is the po­ten­tial for more. Pep will not stop de­mand­ing.

De­spite his im­prov­ing goal record, he can score more.

In the last Manch­ester derby, he missed two clear chances to score goals which would have put the game be­yond doubt in the first half – and en­sured City won the ti­tle against their neigh­bours. In­stead, United came back to win 3-2. To­mor­row is an op­por­tu­nity for Raheem to show United how much he has im­proved. If City win, they will al­ready have 10 from a pos­si­ble 12 points against their big­gest ri­vals, well ad­vanced in their ti­tle de­fence. In Kevin De Bruyne’s ab­sence, Raheem’s form is a rea­son for that. That is why we are read­ing about his new £300,000-a-week con­tract, which sounds as­tro­nom­i­cal but in this day and age re­flects his mar­ket value.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, his end prod­uct since the start of the 2017-18 cam­paign is above Eden Haz­ard, Ser­gio Aguero and David Silva – no one would bat an eye­lid if they were re­warded with this kind of deal, so why should it be dif­fer­ent for Raheem? He is a piv­otal mem­ber of what is po­ten­tially the great­est Pre­mier League team ever – and al­ready is in terms of points ac­cu­mu­lated to win a ti­tle.

Just as sig­nif­i­cantly, he rep­re­sents ev­ery­thing we want in our best young Eng­land play­ers; tech­ni­cally gifted, fo­cused, am­bi­tious, hun­gry to learn and very in­tel­li­gent tac­ti­cally. He is pre­cisely the type of player we have pre­vi­ously stated English acad­e­mies do not pro­duce. He is the per­fect ex­am­ple for this and the next gen­er­a­tion.

I re­mem­ber when he came into the Liver­pool squad for the first time in 2012. He was a shy, hard­work­ing kid. There was no bling. No ego. No flashi­ness. I have seen plenty of young lads el­e­vated into the se­nior squad act­ing like they have made it. Raheem did not. He was never a prob­lem, just a good pro­fes­sional with the am­bi­tion to be­come the best he could be.

In one of the first train­ing ses­sions, he out­mus­cled Glen John­son – a se­nior pro­fes­sional at the time – and out­paced him. “Wow,” I thought. “This lad has some­thing.” Dur­ing his ca­reer, he has al­ready played a va­ri­ety of roles – winger, No10 and even a “false nine” for a while at Liver­pool, where he was ex­cel­lent.

His Pre­mier League re­turn should be lauded as much as all those great young English tal­ents of re­cent his­tory – Michael Owen, David Beck­ham, Frank Lampard, Steven Ger­rard, Wayne Rooney and Kane. He is still only 23. Imag­ine how good he will be in four years.

If he can con­sis­tently repli­cate that for his coun­try, those boos will sub­side and Eng­land’s fans will be as thrilled as Manch­ester City’s to see him in their shirt.

Com­bined record: Raheem Ster­ling has 24 goals and 16 as­sists for City since the start of last sea­son

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