By Martyn Herman
Demonised as a caricature of the highly-paid modern-day footballer whose ego dwarfs his talent, Raheem Sterling will have few fans when the Premier League begins this weekend.
Unless, of course, you support Manchester City who made the 20-year-old forward the most expensive English player in history when they paid a fee of up to 49 million pounds to end his increasingly toxic relationship with Liverpool.
City have been relatively restrained during the transfer window but the signing of Sterling, described by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as the best young player in Europe, could prove to be a sound investment by Manuel Pellegrini.
Splashing such a fortune on a player yet to score a Champions League goal, let alone win any silverware, and still far from a polished diamond, appears bold.
Yet Sterling offers City a spark they lacked last season when they trailed in behind Chelsea in the Premier League title race and under-achieved again in the Champions League.
With Sergio Aguero expected to play as a lone striker this season, Sterling’s head-spinning pace and dribbling will compliment an attacking midfield boasting the vision and craft of David Silva and Samir Nasri and the power of Yaya Toure.
Surrounded by players of such international pedigree Sterling will not be the focal point he was last season at Liverpool, despite the huge price tag, so with a fresh start and the right attitude, his boots should do the talking.
“He has a lot of things we didn’t have in our squad,” Pellegrini said. “He has a lot of pace and I am sure in the future he will demonstrate why we paid so much money for him.”
If Sterling clicks into gear and hits the form that almost helped Liverpool to the 2013-14 title and briefly lit up England’s World Cup campaign in Brazil, Pellegrini’s faith will be fully justified.
The snipers will be taking aim if things do not go to plan though, especially after a trophy-less season last time out when points were surrendered too easily against clubs who ended up being relegated, allowing Chelsea to cruise home.
Trumping Jose Mourinho and regaining the Premier League is Pellegrini’s priority but he also talks about going “a stage” further in the Champions League after falling in the round of 16 in 2014-15 – their best, albeit modest, showing to date.
“I’m sure we are going to be a very competitive team in all competitions,” he said. “I see the players are hungry to win another title.”
Apart from Sterling, City also spent around 20 million pounds on two other young English players – midfielder Fabian Delph signed from Aston Villa and teenage winger Patrick Roberts from Fulham – a sign the club is trying to snap up the cream of home talent.