Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City doesn’t really have a face. This is somewhat unusual for a team at the elite level of the sport. Barcelona, for instance, are Lionel Messi’s team. For the best part of a decade, Real Madrid revolved around Cristiano Ronaldo. City don’t really have a figure upon which everything is built.
Kevin de Bruyne is perhaps the closest thing Man City have to this kind of player, but the Belgian missed the majority of last season through injury. If Guardiola’s team had a face last season, it was Raheem Sterling. He was the one who pushed them forward with great consistency over the campaign.
Indeed, Sterling had a very successful season, scoring 27 times for club and country in 2019. When he arrived at the Etihad Stadium as a £49 million signing from Liverpool, he was far from a finished article. Sterling lacked an end product, sometimes flattering to deceive. That is no longer an issue. Far from it.
Under Guardiola’s stewardship, Sterling has become a hardened goalscorer. Once a mercurial winger, he is now playing as a striker, albeit starting from a wide position. Note how many times Sterling now rushes into the six-yard box to get on the end of crosses or loose balls. That’s something that has been eased into his game over the past few seasons.
“I know the special qualities of the player, the consistency, physicality, the finishing…” Guardiola said about Sterling after his opening day performance against West Ham. “He is in his first days playing as a striker but for me striker will be an incredible position for him, but he can play in three positions up front.”
So given the success enjoyed by Sterling last season and over the last calendar year why isn’t he being mentioned as a potential candidate for the 2019 Ballon d’Or? After all, Virgil Van Dijk is being tipped for world football’s biggest individual prize. Roberto Firmino has even been mooted as a challenger, with the Brazilian currently the third favourite with the bookmakers.
In fact, going on the bookmakers Sterling is just as likely to win this year’s Ballon d’Or as Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Hugo Lloris. The 24-year-old might be suffering from Man City Syndrome, a condition which seems to affect all at the Etihad Stadium and shield them from collecting individual awards. Sterling deserves a mention.
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