That Raheem Sterling has been one of the most influential players at Manchester City for the last five years is indisputable. The England international has been one of the best players in the Premier League and at City. He has contributed significantly to the club’s success for the better part of the last decade.
Since moving to the Etihad Stadium from Liverpool, Sterling has grown steadily as a player and his contributions to the team have been well worth the £50million City shelled out for his signature back in 2015.
The 27-year-old has indeed come a long way since netting his first goal on his fourth appearance for the Blues, which came when he converted Bacary Sagna’s cross on the volley in a 2-0 win over Watford in August 2015. It was the first of many to come, some of which have been sensational in either the execution or importance. Or both.
Apart from the occasional game against Liverpool in which Man City played as if a man down when Sterling was in the line up, and several performances in the last couple of seasons, he was usually at the top of his game and gave City a unique advantage when on the pitch.
Now standing at 131 goals and 94 assists in 337 appearances, his numbers tell the story of an important player that delivered the goods more often than not. He is even in the top 10 list of players with the most goals for the club.
But change is inevitable, especially in football. There comes a time to part ways.
Yes, some players stay on to become club legends only to move on when that becomes the natural thing to do as they can no longer perform at the highest level. For others, however, circumstances make an early move a necessity.
Signs that this relationship might be coming to an end soon emerged early last season as Sterling’s time on the pitch reduced drastically. In fact, since his 31 game starts in the 2018/19 campaign, the numbers have been on a downward slope. From 30 the next season to 28 in 2020/21 and 23 last term.
There will be no problem there if the player was content with the minutes he was afforded given the competition in the team. But he clearly was not happy with his playing time and publicly offered to leave the club in the January transfer window in search of more playing time.
It was clear from that point that at the slightest opportunity he was going to take the exit door. The option of signing a new contract was shelved at this point as the issue of playing time had to be resolved. With the manager unable to guarantee him more playing time there was only one way out - leaving the club.
Pep Guardiola has made it clear over time that he does not want to work with players who are not happy with what they have at the club.
“I cannot retain a player who does not play because he has a contract,” Guardiola stated while speaking on the issue back in December 2021 during an online presentation as part of Itau’s Vision of Leaders program. “I told my players at this club that I want to see them happy. We’ve known each other for a long time, and if anyone is unhappy then they have to leave.”
“If a player after a year or two wants to play more games he will have to leave. You have to negotiate with the club, reach an agreement and let him go. It is not worth being in places being unhappy. We don’t know where happiness is, if we knew where happiness is we would all go there.”
So after his expression of a desire to leave the club in the January transfer window, Sterling’s departure from the Etihad Stadium became a matter of which club could meet City’s valuation or present a good enough offer. Chelsea are on course to snap up the player, according to reports.
But why would Man City sell such an important player to a direct rival?
Given the situation with the player at the moment, City’s options are limited. With his contract set to expire next summer, his valuation drops significantly. That’s for the simple fact that any suitor can decide to wait for a year and get the player for free.
Sterling staying at the Etihad Stadium for another year could be counterproductive for the team as well. He is not happy with the playing time available. But with players like Phil Foden and Jack Grealish ready to take over his favorite position, minutes could be reduced even further. Grealish, in particular, needs game time and that cannot be given to another player on the way out.
Moving him to the other wing is not the solution to the problem as new signing Julian Alvarez will be battling for a place with Riyad Mahrez.
On the financial side of things, the financial might of English clubs puts them at an advantage in situations like this. Chelsea are happy to pay a relatively high price for a good player that teams elsewhere will be reluctant to pay. So City will have to sell as that’s good for the books.
Football is business, after all.