On the verge of more records, Raheem Sterling close to becoming a national hero

Manchester City star has excelled on the pitch and trying to make a difference off it through his charity

If more statues are commissioned at Manchester City this summer then the name of Raheem Shaquille Sterling MBE should surely be near the top of the list.

At the age 27, with arguably some of his best years still ahead of him, Sterling is close to becoming a national hero and embossing his name across all of his club’s playing records.

Despite six years in Sky Blue, he still often divides opinion in the stands at the Etihad, for some unfathomable reason is regularly booed by opposition fans and rarely receives the kind of outpouring of love enjoyed by his teammates Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero.

Maybe it’s because Sterling doesn’t court admiration or validation from anyone other than his teammates, his manager and his family. He’s not one for chasing popularity.

And yet in 2021 alone, he became a Member of the British Empire - for services to racial equality - in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honours list, set up his own charitable foundation to educate and inspire the next generation, had a portrait commissioned for the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and was invited to edit one of British Radio’s most respected programmes, the Today programme on BBC Radio.

He also, for good measure, surfaced in London Fashion Week to launch his own clothing brand (1692). It’s named after the year of the Jamaican earthquake in 1692 that gave birth to Kingston - his own birthplace.

On the pitch, he stands on the threshold of a host of records and achievements. His next Premier League goal, his 104th, will take him level with Chelsea idol Didier Drogba and he is currently just six behind Manchester United great Ryan Giggs, the highest ranked winger in the all-time Premier League scoring lists.

Nine more goals and Sterling enters the top ten Manchester City goalscorers of all time.

The winger has already clocked up 316 City games level with modern legend Yaya Toure and more than famed skipper Tony Book. Sterling still has 18 months left on his contract to climb above the 30 or so players who have played more games for City in the last 127 years.

Raheem Sterling joins 100-goals club

While he has not addressed his long term future publicly, all options remain in play. Sterling and City could agree to part ways in the summer, he could play out the last 18 months of his contract and he could yet renew and take his City stay into his 30s.

What is certain is that after a spell at the start of the season when he found breaking into the champions starting eleven difficult, Sterling is back on top form doing what he does best - contributing goals and assists in virtually every game.

If he was in a form slump, and his England international performances at the European Championships suggested otherwise, a much-needed run of starts for City has him back and purring.

Sterling, a three-time Premier League champion, has been a huge part of City’s now familiar run of league success post the November international break.

It was a period in which he passed 100 Premier League goals and more than 50 assists spread between stints at City and Liverpool and helped propel Guardiola’s side back to the top of the table.

His prowess in front of goal has often been downplayed because of the number of close range strikes - 95 of his 100 came from inside the penalty box - but in each of the last four seasons he’s reached double figures and in 2019/20 scored 20 times in 33 Premier League outings. On average he has managed a goal or assist every other game since he joined City.

Quote
I've reached 100 now and that's all well and good, but I want to keep chipping away and keep doing more and winning,
Raheem Sterling

"I'm looking forward to what the next couple of years can bring. I need to make sure I maintain that level. I've reached 100 now and that's all well and good, but I want to keep chipping away and keep doing more and winning,” he said when asked about his scoring feats.

“I'm really grateful. As a young child, you never know if you're going to make it or not. One of my biggest dreams was to be a football player and to say I've made my debut and I'm actually doing alright, I'm really proud of myself and I'm hungry to keep getting better.

“I’m just happy being amongst the team, keep helping, keep chipping away, keep smiling and keep enjoying my football.”

Sterling’s two-goals against Leicester over the Christmas period took his tally to five for December - more than several English top flight teams have managed.

Some of his strikes may look simple but require razor sharp concentration, anticipation and technique. Sterling, under Guardiola, reads the play better than ever. A point not lost on his former teammate and now pundit, Nedum Onuoha.

“Even for the goal against Newcastle recently, as the ball’s wide he’s level with the full-back and then he turns on the jets to get into that six-yard box to be able to have a tap in,” he observed.

“It looks simple but that’s not normal, not everybody’s doing that. Some people will hang out on the edge of the box and let the game pass them by but Raheem always wants to put himself into a position when he can have a direct impact on the game.”

There can be no doubt that Guardiola and his coaches have improved the maturing Sterling. Former England boss Glenn Hoddle made the observation that the timing of Raheem’s runs has got better every year and that he is more astute in his movement and choices than when he first arrived in Manchester from Liverpool.

After some early, youthful brushes with authority, family man Sterling has become an inspiration and driving force on and off the pitch.

Raised in the London borough of Brent, he recently launched his charitable foundation which seeks to spotlight the next generation of talent across the UK, Jamaica and surrounding nations.

He also donated kits, footballs and footwear to his local football team in Jamaica, Maverley Hughenden FC to support grassroots football on the island and to help inspire the next generation of footballers

A portrait of Sterling went on display as part of an exhibition to celebrate the stories of ‘inspirational people of colour’ connected to Brent. The exhibition, named Icons of Colour, was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Raheem Sterling is a special player and a special man.

Updated: December 30th 2021, 9:09 AM