The song ‘So Long, Farewell’ plays over a compilation of Sterling sitters. A few reveal over-elaboration on his part but they are mostly a failure of the young No 31 to put his foot through a ball with the goal yawning. Part of the video’s title is #goodriddance.
The goals that Sterling did score at Liverpool are edited out of this rather bitter production. The Newcastle game, in April 2015, three months before the player signed for City, illustrates why manager Brendan Rodgers was willing to tolerate the occasional howler.
The 20-year-old Sterling was sublime, instantly controlling Jordan Henderson’s diagonal pass and dancing around Ryan Taylor before delicately picking his spot past Tim Krul.But run the numbers on Sterling’s career and you see the difference City have made.From nine Premier League goals in 2013-14 — his best top-flight return in three Liverpool seasons — he has scored 18 and 17 in the past two seasons with 14 already this time.
It will hurt Liverpool that he has evolved in this way because there always was a fear that City would pinch him and benefit from their shrewd scouting. When the 15-year-old Sterling briefly vanished from Liverpool’s Kirkby academy on the day he was to sign from Queens Park Rangers in 2010, a few were convinced that Etihad staff had spirited him away.
Guardiola arrived at City and took over Sterling in the aftermath of England’s disastrous Euro 2016.There was a telephone call between the two and Guardiola identified a psychological dimension to Sterling’s first-season struggle at City.‘Obviously, he has a little bit of problem with the £49million they (Manchester City) paid, in the mind of the people,’ Guardiola said at the time. Another insider put it more strongly. ‘Raz was fading away.’
Those who knew Sterling from his Liverpool days relate that he was more introspective than his confident exterior implied. When Mikel Arteta joined Guardiola and was asked to work with Sterling he felt the player was intimidated by the goal and subconsciously operated farther away from it than he might.He seemed indifferent to how many goals he scored. ‘It was like he didn’t care,’ Guardiola said.
Guardiola’s vision for Sterling was a role similar to that of Romario, his old Barcelona team-mate. ‘Whenever I saw Romario with his back to the centre-halves I’d never give him the ball,’ he tells the writers. ‘But the instant I saw him on the ‘half-turn’ with his shoulder dipping as if he wanted the ball fed into his right or left foot, I knew he thought he could explode away from his marker. In that instance I always hit the pass immediately. Every time.