I’m finally coming to the age where more and more professional athletes are coming onto the scene that are younger than me. It’s a major hit to the 20-year-old intramural player’s self esteem when he sees a 19-year-old starting for a top four team in the Premier League on a week-to-week basis. Now, it’s finally gone a step farther as fellow 20-year-old Raheem Sterling is on the verge of a £49 million move to Manchester City from Liverpool, a move that would make him the third most expensive signing in Premier League history behind just Angel Di Maria and Fernando Torres.
This move comes after an ugly, drawn out transfer saga that saw Sterling’s agent make harsh comments against Liverpool’s ownership and alumni, while the player himself reportedly called in “sick” for two days of training in an effort to force a move. Despite reports saying that the young English phenom wanted to move due to his strained relationship with manager Brendan Rodgers, the former Swansea City boss dismissed the rumors saying that he and Sterling had always gotten along fine together. Whatever the reasoning was behind the forced exit from Anfield, Sterling will now face the pressure of living up to his astronomical transfer fee and proving to critics around the world that he is ready to establish himself as one of the best in the world.
In terms of performance, Sterling’s statistics aren’t exactly mind-blowing. After his first three full seasons with the first team, the midfielder has registered just 18 goals in 92 appearances (0.2 goals/game). A major complaint against the talented young player has been a lack of consistency. At times, Sterling can completely take over a game and show the skill and finesse that have made him arguably the best young Englishman around. In other matches, however, the 20-year-old appears disinterested and is almost invisible on the pitch. With such a massive price tag, City fans and management will be expecting Sterling to consistently be at the top of his game, and if he isn’t, City are no strangers to bringing in high power replacements.
One thing that Sterling brings to City, regardless of performance, is a homegrown player. A homegrown player is one that was developed in the English system through club academies. At the moment, City have just three such players (Joe Hart, Gael Clichy and Richard Wright). Current Premier League rules stipulate that at least eight players of the final 25-man roster must be homegrown. The addition of Sterling will edge them closer to this quota, and that potentially added a hefty addition to his transfer fee.
This move means that Sterling follows the path of several Englishmen in recent years to join the big-spending club, but only one of those was able to become a first team regular. Do the names Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell sound familiar to you? It wasn’t too long ago that they were considered some of the most exciting young players in England, granted with smaller clubs like Swansea City and Everton respectively, but the big move to Manchester seemed to derail their promising careers.
Sinclair moved to the Citizens in 2012 after breaking onto the scene with Swansea, but he spent the majority of the last three seasons on loan with West Brom and Aston Villa. The brief stint in Manchester finally ended this summer with Sinclair moving permanently to Villa after registering just 13 appearances for City without a single league goal.
Rodwell, on the other hand, was at one time considered a future centerpiece of England’s midfield and was attracting interest from nearly every big team in the Premier League after impressing with Everton as a teenager. His short spell at the Etihad lasted even shorter than Sinclair’s as he left after two years to join Sunderland. The move to City ended with 16 league appearances and two goals.
In recent memory, the only Englishman to have success at City was James Milner. After a move from Aston Villa in 2010, the Leeds native went on to make over 140 appearances in the sky blue kit as well as receiving two Premier League winner’s medals and an FA Cup title. Even with the relative success that Milner had with City, his price tag was just half of what Sterling’s is and City fans will be hoping for an even bigger contribution from the young winger.
Sterling’s ability to cope with the additional pressure that comes with this massive price tag, paired with his possible consistency issues could set him on the same path as Sinclair and Rodwell in a couple years. However, if Sterling is able to rise to the occasion of playing with a perennial title contender not just in England but on the European stage, he may well cement his name as a club legend alongside players like David Silva and Sergio Aguero, but as a United fan I’m hoping this isn’t the case.