In April of 2018, Leroy Sane was announced as the PFA Young Player of the Year for the 2017/18 season. The 22-year-old had enjoyed a fantastic campaign, registering 10 goals and 15 assists in the league for the most dominant team in Premier League history, as Manchester City accumulated a remarkable century of points - a historical first in top-flight English football.
Overlooked for the award, however, was Raheem Sterling. The forward bagged 18 goals and notched a further 11 assists in what was his most productive season to date. In terms of combined goals and assists, Sterling was bettered only by Mohammed Salah and Harry Kane; widely regarded as two of the best players in the division.
The perception of Sterling, at least among many of the British public, however, did not align with his achievements. Upon winning the Golden Boy award in 2014 - given by journalists to the best young footballer in Europe over a calendar year - he was compared unfavourably to previous winners, including Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Mario Gotze.
Only as recently as the 2018 World Cup, England fans were audibly frustrated with his performances, the exasperation seemingly extreme. With his usual productivity in front of goal lacking, supporters failed to see what Sterling offered to the team, with calls for Marcus Rashford to start growing by the game. In contrast to Sterling, who is frequently criticised for his lack of ball striking ability, Rashford has excellent shooting technique.
Sterling's ability to move England up the pitch with his dribbling skills went largely unnoticed, however, and, with the spotlight firmly on the ex-Liverpool winger, every mistake he made was amplified. Many of the British public convinced themselves that Sterling lacked shooting, passing and crossing technique; relied on his only attribute, pace; and was carried at club level by more talented teammates, such as playmakers Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.
⚽️⚽️⚽️ @sterling7 scores his 2nd career hat-trick and 1st since Oct 2015.— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 9, 2019
Multiple @premierleague hat-tricks for @ManCity
4⃣ Carlos Tevez
2⃣ Raheem Sterling pic.twitter.com/4KYncwcJCY
Fast forward to March of the 2018/19 Premier League season, and four players top the charts for combined goals and assists. The usual suspects Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard and Mohammed Salah are joined by Sterling, who continues to improve his efficiency in the final third and challenge the very best in the division.
While Sterling lacks the traditional shooting technique that the likes of Harry Kane and Aguero possess, he has proven over an 18 month period that his anticipation and movement in the box is among the most intelligent around.
Praise has nevertheless been begrudging. Rather than the aforementioned narrative - which states that Sterling benefits hugely from his City teammates, and that his true ability is reflected at international level - poor service from England's unimaginative midfield is more to blame for English forwards more widely failing to replicate their club form. Between Sterling, Rashford, Dele Alli and Kane, only the latter has a respectable goal record for the Three Lions, with 20 goals in 35 appearances.
A new generation of more technical English midfielders - including James Maddison and Phil Foden - may provide Sterling with better opportunities to showcase his talents to his nation's fans.
Meanwhile, along with Premier League great Aguero, he remains the most dangerous attacker for a team considered by many to be the best in world football, his sights firmly set on a second successive Premier League title.
Another title win for the Citizens would surely put Sterling firmly in the talk for PFA Player of the Year, if he carries on his rich vein of form. A Champions League win - which is within the realms of possibility - with telling contributions from the Englishman would elevate him to the status which he so quietly deserves - that is, a world class footballer.
Source : 90min