Raheem Sterling’s career should be divided into a ‘pre-Guardiola’ and ‘post-Guardiola’ phase to just understand the extent to which he has improved under Manchester City’s freshly appointed manager.
Sterling has been remarkably brilliant for City so far. He has scored two goals and three assists in his four appearances, and he can break through the toughest of defences, with an average 3.7 dribbles per game. In fact, those might be the best numbers of the tournament at this point.
There must’ve been something about Pep noticed and wanted to develop, once he was in charge. Pep immediately showed his confidence in Sterling – who, after being booed and after a terrible Euro performance, was facing a crisis. In a recent report, Guardiola has even said that it wasn’t any tactical or technical change, it was merely a case of helping him adjust his mentality. Guardiola gave him the authority to go forward, and to take risks. That, in turn, increased his dribbling in every game.
As far as Sterling’s career pre-Guardiola goes, he had become the subject of hatred and anger from nation-wide fans, as he went ahead with his £49 million move from Liverpool. He was always an easy target, as crowds never failed to remind him of his “money-hungry” ways. Things did not go all too well for him, after his form dropped in City.
He did start well for them, but then gradually he gave in to fatigue and his form declined drastically. This, of course, gave his haters further reason to jeer and make fun of him. Also, the fact that he wasn’t able to live up to his price tag, and the taunts and boos ultimately got to him, like they do to the best of players. To make matters worse, his season ended in a worse manner as England failed miserably at the Euro 2016. To many, it almost seemed like his career itself might be over.
However, now let’s get to the post-Guardiola part.
It is said that Guardiola even called up Sterling during the Euro 2016 to offer words of encouragement, and he has been doing so ever since. This just goes to show how sometimes all that a player needs is a manager who is confident in him and encourages him relentlessly. And now, it is paying off.
Sterling’s post-Guardiola time has been brief so far, but he seems to have rediscovered the motivation and focus that kept him going like his Liverpool days. It finally feels like he is truly enjoying what he is doing. He is a strong, dynamic player, who can out-run even the best. He has the ability to be crafty, set up goals, and score a few by himself as well. The energy and sheer talent that seemed to have earned him a spot at Manchester City, is indeed here to stay now. Last season, there were instances where he seemed unsure, weak and just plain un-focused, whereas now he is the exact opposite.
What’s even more impressive, is that all this came just because of what Pep has done to him. They say that having the right mindset wins half the battle, and it seems to be true in Sterling’s case especially.
He is just 21 years old now, which means that he is still far from his peak form. He’s constantly developing as both a person and a footballer, and with Pep leading the way, Sterling can only benefit further. It is not easy to instil confidence into somebody who lacks the same, and yet Guardiola managed to do it with relative ease. Pep is making Manchester City a better team, but the biggest thing that he has done for them so far, is to get back Sterling’s faith, and needless to say, it has resulted in a positive outcome.