There are those who still doubt Raheem Sterling. Pep Guardiola might even have certain concerns over the 27-year-old’s game with Sterling spending much of the last two seasons in and out of the Manchester City first team. The numbers, however, make the best case for Sterling being a Premier League icon.
His penalty winner for City against Wolves on Saturday afternoon saw Sterling find the back of the net for the 100th time in the Premier League, putting him among esteemed company. On the all-time list of Premier League top scorers, there aren’t many non-strikers who have scored more than Sterling, who is still only 27.
Such is the depth of talent at the Etihad Stadium, it can be easy to overlook Sterling’s contribution. Kevin De Bruyne, for instance, is arguably the best midfielder in the sport right now while Ruben Dias was the best defender in the league last season. Then there’s the likes of Joao Cancelo, Ederson, Phil Foden and others who can all claim to be operating at the top of their trade.
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Yet Sterling has spanned a greater period of success than most in the City dressing room having arrived at the club in 2015 as the most expensive English player ever one year prior to Guardiola’s appointment. Along with the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure, Sterling has made himself a Manchester City icon of the Sheikh Mansour era.
There was also a sparkling period at Liverpool. While many remember the Anfield club’s unlikely title challenge of the 2013/14 season for Luis Suarez’s heroics, the Uruguayan had Sterling as a highly effective strike partner, with the wide man notching nine goals and five assists in the Premier League.
Of course, Sterling’s game has changed over the years. While he broke through at Liverpool as an out-and-out winger, he is now more of a penalty box finisher for Manchester City. Guardiola has played a key role in refining the play of the 27-year-old who can now play in every position across the frontline.
“A great number. At his age, 100 goals is a lot,” Guardiola said after Sterling netted his 100th Premier League goal in the win over Wolves. “Raheem has always been an important player but sometimes there are highs and lows for the career. What we want is the best from them. I am unfair sometimes because players are performing well and don't play and I don't have an excuse.
“But sometimes when they are not performing well, we have to play another one. He is scoring goals lately and with this team Raheem has been incredibly important. Here it depends on performing and they have to do it every single game. His behaviour and his confidence is really good, he is aggressive in attack.”
That Guardiola couldn’t help himself but reference Sterling’s flaws says a lot about how his career has been viewed to date. There is a growing sense that the 27-year-old is approaching a crossroads with the player himself admitting his desire to one day play outside England. Barcelona and Real Madrid have both been linked.
A move abroad might be the only thing that can stop Sterling from rising further up the all-time list of goalscorers in Premier League history, with competition so stiff at Manchester City that the England international isn’t guaranteed to start every match. He might have his flaws, but they are far outweighed by Sterling’s qualities. The 100 Premier League goals to his name prove it.
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