The Raheem Sterling transfer saga has been largely enthralling, even during its cringe-worthy moments along the way. From a rather inappropriate television interview last season to calling in sick for pre-season training, the 20 year-old managed to engineer his move away from Liverpool.
Manchester City were always front-runners for his signature and despite the Merseyside club driving a hard bargain, they did eventually land their man for a cool Dhs281.1 million (£49m), a fee that made Sterling the most expensive English signing in history.
It’s the extravagant sum that’s become a hot topic of discussion over the last few days with many arguing that it was excessive if not wasteful, even by City’s lavish standards of expenditure.
However, Sterling’s talent is undoubted and if he does indeed thrive in the blue half of Manchester, could these concerns eventually prove short-sighted?
Here are five reasons why Sterling is a good signing for City:
1. HE’S A WORLD CLASS TALENT
Sterling is among the absolute elite young footballers on the planet. He’s not just about raw pace. He’s also creative and unpredictable; basically a nightmare for defenders. He has the quality to provide goals and assists on a regular basis and if City were to shell out the same fee for Mario Gotze for example, a few eyebrows may have been raised momentarily but the move would largely have met approval for the ‘German Messi’.
However, Gotze’s career has lived a rather charmed life from immediately winning consecutive Bundesliga titles with a Borussia Dortmund side on the rise to moving to Bayern Munich for even more silverware. He’s even won the 2014 World Cup with a star-studded German side, conveniently slotting home the winner in the final.
Sterling on the other hand didn’t have the luxury of entering a team in its prime. He burst onto the scene with a struggling Liverpool side in disarray and managed to be a beacon of hope for the club.
He came under immense pressure and still managed to deliver more often than not. There’s not much to separate him from the Gotze – three years his senior – in the last couple of seasons as far as individual performances go.
2. £49 MILLION IS AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE
Roughly a decade ago, ambition saw a highly-rated young English talent move from Merseyside to Manchester for a record transfer fee of Dhs150 million (£26m) that set tongues wagging. His name was Wayne Rooney and he’s now Manchester United’s captain, closing in on being their all-time top scorer and also leads the national team.
Like in the case of their city rivals’ recruitment of the former Everton prodigy, the Citizens have very much paid for the player that Sterling has every chance of becoming rather than the one he is at the moment.
Because he’s been around so prominently for a few seasons already, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 20 years old. It’s a gamble no doubt, but if Sterling goes on to perform for City over the next decade while progressing steadily, the money spent on his procurement will become increasingly irrelevant.
3. HE’S A BREATH OF FRESH AIR AT CITY
For the last couple of seasons, City’s squad has had a rather stale appearance to it. They still possess some incredible players but they do lack the kind of effervescence only youth can provide.
David Silva and Jesus Navas are both 29 years old, while Samir Nasri is 28. They’re fine attacking options behind Sergio Aguero but Sterling’s injection of pace and vibrancy would certainly rejuvenate the team in that department.
Given that Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are now 32 and 30 respectively, their midfield could do with some young blood. Sterling also offers Manuel Pellegrini a completely new dimension from a tactical perspective.
His pace and directness is something that can’t be matched by Silva and Nasri in the final third, while also offering the ability to drift in centrally and attack the heart of the defence as opposed to Navas’ style of hugging the touchline. Sterling is a rare talent that combines dribbling, creativity and pace to devastating effect.
4. HIS VERSATILITY BRINGS OPTIONS
City’s line-up and tactics have been more or less predictable under Pellegrini. It’s not hard to pick their first XI and they set up virtually the same way in every game. Sterling’s arrival, however, gives them the ability to make slight yet effective tweaks in attack.
Brendan Rodgers was never afraid to implement new systems and as a result, Sterling has grown accustomed to several roles. He has the ability to play in a variety of positions in the final third and can fill in for key players like Silva or Aguero.
When Aguero plays, he invariably scores but the Argentine also inevitably picks up niggling injurie every season and City are left missing that spark and burst of pace he provides. In Sterling, they’d have an option to retain that threat in behind the opposing defence even if he wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement.
In Silva’s absence, Pellegrini usually opts for a second striker but now he’ll have the option of playing Sterling in that role where he’s shown he can provide a different kind of threat.
5. HE IS A HOMEGROWN TALENT
City are understandably keen on recruiting English talent this summer as was evident in their ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph. In previous seasons, the likes of Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell were lured into the club in order to fulfil the English player quota, only to remain on the fringes of the first team.
In Sterling though, City have an Englishman capable of being not just a regular in the team but one of its standout players. Instead of recruiting a classy foreign talent and still having to sign an average English player for £15-£20 million, they have secured themselves a deal that fulfils both criteria.
Apart from Joe Hart, City don’t have an English player who is a permanent fixture in the first team. It’s hard enough for fans not to have a local hero within the squad, someone they can count as one of their own. In Sterling at least they’ll have another Englishman to identify with.
Being the great hope of the national team, much like Rooney, comes with its pressures and scrutiny but is not absent its perks. What City have also bought is great marketing potential in a player who could well go on to become an iconic figure for both club and country.