Stepping stones hurt Liverpool fans as they travel to Manchester City to see Raheem Sterling

Anfield faithful do not tend to appreciate those, such as Fernando Torres, who reject their club and join domestic rivals.

Raheem Sterling moved to Manchester City, blaming mismanagement at Liverpool for his transfer. Rui Vieira / AP Photo
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It promises to be a rancorous reunion. Emblem turned enemy, prodigy turned protester, Raheem Sterling faces Liverpool for the first time today.

Young, quick, talented and fearless, he epitomised Liverpool before he antagonised them.

The most expensive Englishman of all time received a preview of what to expect as a Manchester City player even before he had left Anfield. He was booed when he collected Liverpool’s Young Player of the Year award in May.

As the build-up to today’s game has been notable for the sound of sniping from Sterling’s agent, Aidy Ward, it is hard to imagine the Merseyside club’s fans will let bygones be bygones.

His £49 million (Dh274.4m) move to Manchester was lucrative, but Sterling’s camp have been reluctant to consign the controversy to the past.

In October, Ward branded the dismissed Brendan Rodgers “sly” and claimed his client would still be at Liverpool but for him. This week, he renewed his onslaught.

“At Liverpool, Raheem was asked to play as a full-back,” he said. It is more accurate to say here that, while often deployed farther forward, Sterling started a few games as a wing-back.

He is set to face his former club as a left-winger, a scorer of six goals who is becoming more prolific, if not necessarily consistent enough, in the colours of City.

Manuel Pellegrini’s rationale about his costly recruit is invariably two-pronged: that Sterling will develop by teaming up with the high-class players his new clubs possess and that he has to deliver more goals.

After just 23 in 129 games for Liverpool, there have been six goals in 15 matches for City.

Progress is being made. More is demanded.

“I always say that Raheem is a very young player,” Pellegrini said. “He must improve a lot and in important things. He has a lot of years to work and he will be more important in the future.”

Pellegrini diplomatically described Sterling’s meeting with Liverpool as “special”. Others may choose different words.

City’s last match was notable for Aston Villa fans brandishing inflatable snakes at Fabian Delph. Their former captain had pledged to stay with the Midlanders, only to execute a U-turn six days later and sign for City.

Sterling, at least, can claim he was more consistent in his thinking. His departure was signposted in an increasingly acrimonious affair.

An extended, improved contract at Anfield was rejected. Relations took a turn from the worse when Ward claimed he would not even sign a deal worth £900,000 a week on Merseyside.

Sterling asked to be omitted from Liverpool’s pre-season tour in a bid to expedite a delayed move.

It is clear Ward objects to depictions of Sterling as the villain of the piece. The 20-year-old midfielder has had the wisdom to remain quiet as a City player.

It helps that, in a dressing room populated by high-profile players and when the £54m Kevin de Bruyne is still more expensive, the focus is spread across several players.

He has been less inflammatory but stands by his decision. “The time was right for me and my heart was saying that is what I should do,” he said last week. “I have no regrets.”

The league table, coupled with City’s progress to the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League, offers vindication.

Sterling may well have been ideally suited to Jurgen Klopp’s high-octane brand of football, as Ward claimed, but Liverpool languish in 10th.

Their Sterling-fuelled title charge in 2014 apart, they have not ranked among the elite since 2009.

It has made them vulnerable to predators. Their history and identity means the notion of Liverpool as a stepping stone rankles.

Their fans do not tend to appreciate those, such as Fernando Torres, who reject their club and join domestic rivals.

Forgiveness takes time but it also requires the right attitude. Ward’s words ensure Sterling is likely to be jeered by the travelling fans today.

sports@thenational.ae

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