The £49m fee that Manchester City have paid for Raheem Sterling has been a hotly contested subject over the past few weeks, especially on Twitter and radio airwaves, as fans try to debate which club has come out on top in this record deal. Many, including some City fans, feel that it is an incredibly expensive fee given that he has less than 100 Premier League appearances to his name and therefore Liverpool are the clear winners in the transfer exchange. Whilst the lack of experience may be true, Sterling is worth every penny to Manchester City, even at a rate deemed by many to be far above the going market fee.
Players however do not have a set fee, they are not used cars, a player’s value is determined by the importance placed upon the signing by the buying club. The Citizens need Sterling for many different reasons. Firstly, paying that money to avoid sanctions for a lack of home-grown players makes financial sense. The Blues need to add English talent, and that pool is exceedingly small. Secondly he adds unique talents to a stagnated squad and thirdly they have paid a premium for his exceptional potential. Quality does not come cheap, especially for English talent.
City have been criticised for not strengthening after winning the Premier League in the same way the Sir Alex Ferguson always used to during Manchester United’s incredible success under his tenure over the past 25 years. Never mind reinforcing after a winning a trophy, it has been four years and several uninspiring transfer windows since City signed Sergio Aguero, the last world class signing the club made. Since the Argentinian arrived only players who can add squad depth have followed. However the enthusiasm that has surrounded the clubs pursuit of Sterling has reinvigorated a fan base that had started to become concerned with the quality that was being brought to the club.
Raheem Sterling is an instant upgrade on Jesus Navas, a player of similar pace, who has been plying his trade on City’s right wing for two seasons now. Sterling completed nearly 70 more dribbles than Navas last year, had a similar amount of assists and crucially scored seven goals to Navas’ zero. The 20 year old was only behind new teammate David Silva and Eden Hazard in creating goal-scoring opportunities last year. Presumably playing alongside Aguero will also see his assist tally rise. The England international showed plenty of pace and the ability to take on opposition players during his 45-minute debut against Roma in Tuesday’s penalty shootout win, during which he scored his first goal for the club.
His most impressive period in a Liverpool shirt came whilst playing in a blistering front three alongside Luis Suarez and Sturridge, during which Liverpool came so close to beating City to the title. Many have been quick to down play his role since the transfer saga began to rear its head, which is ridiculous. He demonstrated world-class ability in short bursts and becoming more consistent will be something that improves with age.
As Liverpool’s number 9 position became a revolving door last year due to the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli’s lack of goals and Brendon Rodgers’ reluctance to play Fabio Borini or Ricky Lambert, Sterling struggled for form in the latter half of the season. The speculation over his future and timing of his public statements probably didn’t help.
At City he is likely to play in a front three alongside David Silva and Sergio Aguero, possibly with Yaya Toure just behind. The lack of striking quality at Anfield after the sale of Suarez was abundantly clear and Sterling drew a lot more attention from opposition defenders than when he was playing alongside the mercurial Uruguayan. With the bevy of attacking talents at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposal, it’s safe to assume that given Aguero and Silva being in the same quality bracket as Suarez he may be afforded more space than he was last season.
Sterling’s football intelligence is often overlooked, as pace is his most noticeable attribute. His career is still in its infancy, and yet not only Brendan Rodgers, but also Roy Hodgson have entrusted him in a central role behind the striker, a position usually reserved for those deemed to have a high footballing IQ. He was also deployed further forward as Rodgers looked for solutions to Liverpool’s unenviable task of replacing Suarez’s goals. This versatility and intelligence will serve him well given the footballing acumen of those around him at City.
Possibly due to the protracted transfer saga, or his slight loss of form, but it seems to have been forgotten that the former QPR youngster is just 20 years old and has arguably shown as much potential at Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale did at that age. The two Real Madrid stars possess the drive and determination to be the best and both worked extremely hard on their technique and physique in their early 20’s. Whether Sterling holds the same determination and drive to be the very best remains to be seen and this will be his biggest test.
Eyebrows were raised when Everton sold Wayne Rooney to Manchester United for a fee of £25.9m. It was a record amount of money paid for a player under 20 years old, but 11 years later the England international has undoubtedly been worth the outlay. The powers that be at the Etihad have made the same long term invested in Sterling. If, and it is a big if given the nature of the modern game, he stays with City for a similar amount of time, the fee will never be mentioned, much the same as Rooney.
A lack of quality and not the strength in depth at the Etihad was the reason for early Champions League exits. Sterling still has a lot to learn and is far from the finished article but should he fulfil his potential, £49m will be money very well spent.
Once the season has started and the dust has settled, Liverpool fans may still be bitter about Sterling’s acrimonious departure from the club, but they will have a great fee and City will have gained a game changer who could prove to be the key to European success.[separator type=”thin”]
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