MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City is pulled back by Julian Korb of Borussia Moenchengladbach during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Raheem Sterling entering critical year at Manchester City

If you ask his critics, Raheem Sterling had the world on a string before his roughly $62 million move from Liverpool to Manchester City last summer.

At just 20 years old, he was the future of the English national team. He had just turned in his second strong season for the Reds, and he looked like the next big thing for club and country.

Then, there was a contract dispute between Sterling and Liverpool. It got ugly, and the Reds cashed in on the young winger in the highest transfer ever paid for an English player.

Despite being slowed by a groin injury in March, he put up roughly the same stats in his first season at Manchester City (11 goals, nine assists) as he did in his final season at Liverpool.

The difference? His price tag.

The contract dispute, which was never going to go down well in a blue collar town like Liverpool, and his hefty transfer fee demand more of Sterling — at least according to the pundits.

He’s aware of the sniping, and is trying to take it in stride.

“I got a lot of criticism last year which I thought was a bit unfair,” he told The Guardian. “There were a few games where I made my mark — in the Champions League, where I had never scored. I equalled my best scoring season, with 11. But you need to improve those stats each year. It was a massive learning step for me.”

The dawn of the Pep Guardiola regime coincides with an important season for Sterling, one that might see him reach his potential.

Working with one of the best managers in the world can only help Sterling sharpen his game, while perhaps learning to cope with the burden of his transfer and his status as one of the future cogs of the Three Lions.

“Pep coming in was a massive help and for him to be on the phone to me before I’d even met him was a massive boost,” he said. “He said he always liked my football and watched me at Liverpool so to hear stuff like that made me go away and think to basically come back stronger and work harder than ever.”

He’s off to a fast start this season, with two goals and three assists in four league games. He won’t turn 22 until December, and assuming he can stay healthy, the sky may still be the limit for Sterling.

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.