Raheem Sterling has 22 Premier League goals to his name since the start of the 2018/19 campaign. He’s scored 31 times in all competitions during this time and five strikes in as many games for England since the turn of the year.
The Manchester City star is one of the most potent wide forwards in world football. He’s one of the game’s most consistent goalscorers, too. Those who fall into that category are often in contention to win the Ballon d’Or. But the 24-year-old tends to be overlooked.
At the time of writing, you can get him at 66/1 to win the award. For context, some bookmakers have Roberto Firmino at 25/1.
The Brazilian has had a remarkable 2019. He was key to Liverpool winning the Champions League and went on to lift the Copa América with Brazil. All while being the man to facilitate the goalscoring exploits of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
But is that better than what Sterling has managed?
A domestic treble, more than 30 goals in all competitions and he’s started to step up in those big situations, something he’s often accused of failing to do.
It was City’s No.7 who had the last-minute goal against Tottenham Hotspur ruled out in the quarter-final of the Champions League. It was the England international who found the net against Liverpool in the Community Shield triumph too.
These aren’t career-defining moments. But Sterling is now showing the mental fortitude required to cut it at the top table of European football. These sort of performances, coupled with his productivity, usually put a player in contention to win the Ballon d’Or. Understandably so, too. He’s keeping pace with the best in the world.
But Sterling is a victim of the Manchester City curse.
Because the Citizens are so good, and because they’ve invested so heavily, the exceptional is expected. Their achievements are almost swept under the carpet. The first time they do something it’s special. After that, it’s like a child showing a parent their 25th painting of what is supposed to be a dog. You can fake the excitement but, in reality, you just don’t care. Not really.
To get the recognition he deserves, Sterling, through no fault of his own, will have to go above and beyond. To be in the Ballon d’Or conversation he’ll need a Lione Messi-esque year. He’ll need to lift the thus-far elusive Champions League trophy. Even then he might be pipped to the crown by the Barcelona legend.
The bar is set higher for these world-class players. That isn’t to say Sterling is in the same stratosphere as Messi but expectations are just different for these individuals.
For example, in each of the last three seasons, the Argentine has averaged 50 goals in all competitions. Yet people talk about him as though he’s been out of form. They go on about Messi as a historical threat as opposed to the player who can single-handedly win a match in a matter of seconds.
Sterling isn’t held to these standards but he is judged against the ridiculously high watermark set by the City side he’s spearheading. He isn’t helped by Salah scoring more goals than him from a similar position. But what the Egyptian is doing isn’t the norm either.
Taking everything into account it seems unfair to compare Sterling to Salah.
The City attacker has 40 Premier League goals since the start of the 2017/18 season and he’s not a centre-forward. The game has changed but when Michael Owen was at his very best for Liverpool he was still only averaging 18 goals per season – the same as Sterling now.
Unless something drastically changes and the City No.7 takes his game to new heights he’s destined to be underrated until the day he retires. Only then will his performances be truly appreciated.
In another era, he’d be a shoo-in for Europe’s top individual award. Unfortunately for Sterling, he finds himself in a superteam whose achievements are downplayed and against players who defy the norm in Messi, Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s the wrong time and wrong place for him but the right time and right place for Manchester City. He’s the perfect wide forward for Pep Guardiola and he’s thriving in his role at the Etihad.