The story of Raheem Sterling is one filled with controversy and celebrity.
Not by his own doing, it must be said, as the outside perception of the Englishman masks over what should be the focal point: what a fine man he is and what magnificent footballer he's become.
From being the most loved player in Liverpool to becoming the most hated overnight, big calls have been made by Sterling in his career. In the quest for glory, he made a decision back in 2015 to leave the club he'd spent five years with to pursue trophies. Lambasted for being fixated on the perceived financial gains as opposed to the potential career boost, he risked the wrath of many - to mixed results.
What is considered 'mixed' in this sense is debatable. The Reds have won three trophies since he departed Anfield - all coming within the last year - but they include the Champions League. Manchester City, on the other hand, has been the trophy-laden home for Sterling ever since, as he's tasted success in six competitions - a figure that could rise to seven by the end of the season and include European prestige.
So, balanced out in that way, he made the right call.
Sterling wanted to win, and he's done pretty much nothing but win since his near £45m move. But above lifting titles and competing on multiple fronts each season, he's established himself as one of the finest forwards in world football. At not only a club that boasts incredible talent, but in a league that does likewise, Sterling perches himself at the top among the very best. Because he is one of the very best.
His breakthrough seasons at Liverpool catapulted him into the limelight, making his debut at the tender age of 17. From there it was nothing but hype and excitement, amplified by the unquestionable ability he possessed.
He scored his first Premier League goal in October 2012, having impressed in spells both in the Europa League and domestically, but it was his top flight outings which offered an glimpse into the crystal ball. He wasn't going to be just another youngster.
Some time away from the first team towards the end of that season and the beginning of the following did him the world of good, as upon returning to the starting lineup he picked up right where he left off. Nine goals in the final 25 matches of the season - including a superb brace over Arsenal - were a timely reminder that he wasn't going to struggle to sustain his escalating trajectory.
An ever-present the following campaign, the off-field contract disputes and turmoil behind the scenes tainted Sterling's class on it. The situation went public and drew widespread criticism both from within the Reds' camp and outside of it. Long story short, he moved to City.
During his time as a Cityzen, the improvement in Sterling's all round game is startling. Even as a 17-year-old it was clear that he would go on to achieve certain success, but to have envisaged this teenager - who was constantly questioned over his attitude and lifestyle choices - now becoming part of the future for both his club and country is testament to his dedication.
It took time for Sterling to settle into his new surroundings under Manuel Pellegrini, although he did score his first league goal on his fourth outing - one of six top flight strikes that season.
He had a hand in six goals in his opening six Premier League matches under Pep Guardiola the season after, which is where individual tactical work and one-to-one tutoring placed Sterling into a whole new stratosphere. Working under the Spaniard for one season changed the forward's style, improved his footballing brain and allowed him to truly express himself on the pitch.
He more than doubled his goal tally of seven that season to 18, while no less than 15 assists followed. In the Champions League he also showed he had the capabilities to come up against the best, scoring four times en route to the quarter-finals. Being knocked out by Liverpool at that stage perhaps not the most romantic way to exit the competition.
It's not just his development on the pitch that has improved, however, as Sterling credited his approach to life away from football as reason for him being the player he is today: “It’s all about mentality: mentality, maturity and growing up. I think now I’m living for football. I’m obsessed with football, obsessed with scoring goals, obsessed with recovering quicker, and obsessed with improving myself," he told FourFourTwo.
“You have every facility here so you have to use it to the best of your advantage to try and be the best you can be.I was decisive but I wasn’t 100 per cent committed, I wasn’t 100 per cent living the way I should be living to be a professional footballer and that would give me an edge on a match day. I realised that and changed it."
And the player he is today is a formidable one. His pace had been a key threat for him even during his youth days, but he now uses it to far greater effect through wiser, more measured running. His finishing is more accurate, whether it's from distance or (as many do jest) from close range.
In terms of becoming a match winner, he's taken upon that mantle too - with clutch moments in crucial fixtures thrusting him into the spotlight instead of becoming a mere passenger on the Orient Express-like City machine.
With 75 goals in his last three Premier League seasons, the progression from the new kid on the block to one of Europe's greatest talents is credit to the hard yards Sterling put in to enhance his career both on and away from the turf.
Now in a class all of his own, fans from across the globe eagerly await see whether he can maintain the same rate of improvement we've already seen as he head into the peak of his powers. The most probable outcome for that, is yes.
Source : 90min