Raheem Sterling featured on Manchester City’s bench a total of 16 times last season, which was a strange sight given he is usually an ever-present member of Pep Guardiola’s side.
The 26-year-old has also started only one league game since the start of the season.
It is a rather damning assessment of Sterling’s current situation, considering no player has ever appeared more under Guardiola at City.
Raheem Sterling (right) has fallen out of favour under Pep Guardiola (left) at Man City
The writing is on the wall that the once star forward has fallen out of favour at the Etihad but with three goals away from reaching a century of career league goals, Sterling is hoping he can still force his way back into Guardiola’s plans.
‘I’m not a person that’s going to complain, I’ve not tried to make it a bigger deal than it actually is,’ Sterling said on Thursday night.
‘I get on with my work, do what I need to do. And I’m just raring to go: playing football matches regularly, scoring goals regularly.
‘At the end of the day, if football for me is not at a certain standard I’m not really at my happiest. If I want my happiness at a certain level I need to be playing football. I need to be scoring goals and enjoying myself.’
The forward has started just two league games this season and is concerned over his future
But Sterling is under no illusion that his short-term future in Manchester looks reassuring and with 18 months left on his contract he has begun weighing up his options away from the Etihad.
‘If there was the option to go somewhere else for more game time I would be open to it,’ he said.
‘As I said football is the most important thing to me. Challenges that I have set myself from a young age and dreams as well.
‘As an English player all I know is the Premier League and I’ve always thought you know maybe one day I’d love to play abroad, to see how I would come up against that challenge.’
From ever-present to out-of-favour
Guardiola recently assured Sterling that he continued to be seen as an important player during talks between the pair.
But the England international has seemingly fallen dramatically out of favour with the City boss, going from a definite starter to dropping out of the five-player group of Citizens’ captains.
And now Sterling has opted against opening discussions over an extension until his short-term future is resolved.
Since scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Arsenal in late February, Sterling has started just half of City’s 32 matches in all competitions and was an unused substitute on five occasions.
The England star has featured heavily on the bench since the second half of last season
Twice he did not even feature in the squad at all, including for a league game at Fulham following a frank discussion with Guardiola. Over that period, he has managed just two goals.
The point of conflict between the pair can potentially be traced back to City’s 2-0 league defeat to Manchester United in March.
Following a decline in form, Sterling was then benched for the following game against Southampton and is said to have made his feelings known to the boss, according to The Athletic.
The winger was angered at the manager’s decision to bench him and made it clear he was not impressed, which led to Guardiola leaving him out of the squad altogether the following week against Fulham.
His tense relationship with Guardiola can be traced back to City’s 2-0 defeat to Man United
Following Sterling’s upset at being benched, the City boss refused to include him in the squad
Their relationship then continued to suffer in the weeks and months afterwards.
But Sterling’s lack of starts hasn’t translated on to the international stage as he continues to be rewarded with regular England starts with Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate favouring the forward.
Sterling enjoyed an impressive campaign with England during Euro 2020 and off the back of his international performances his lack of minutes under Guardiola this season appears even more bizarre.
The lack of game time is creating a deeply frustrating scenario for Sterling who is not receiving the consistent chances needed to prove his worth to Guardiola.
It suggests something untoward is unfolding between the Spaniard and his player with pundit Roy Keane even claiming ‘there’s obviously some bust-up’ between the pair.
But what has gone on for Sterling to go from hero to zero?
The lack of game time is creating a deeply frustrating scenario for the former Liverpool man
How have City left Sterling behind?
Man City’s bench alone is frightening and it is quite clear that Sterling is being shut out of the starting XI by the star power that adorns City’s side.
The England international remains behind Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and £100million summer signing Jack Grealish in the pecking order at the Etihad.
The emergence of Foden has proven to be a thorn in Sterling’s side.
Sterling remains behind summer signing Jack Grealish in the pecking order at Manchester City
The 21-year-old has become integral to the City team, starring as they reached a first-ever Champions League final last season.
That was underlined last week when Foden was named on the 30-man shortlist for the men’s Ballon d’Or alongside teammates Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Ruben Dias and Riyad Mahrez.
City have tied the boyhood supporter down to 2027 in a deal that is expected to be announced over the coming days and likely to make him one of the highest-paid young players in world football.
Foden spent the beginning of this term recovering from a complicated foot injury sustained at the European Championship but has given Guardiola’s side fresh energy since his return and cemented his role in the side.
Guardiola has favoured Phil Foden (right) over Sterling since the youngster’s emergence
The home-grown star was recently shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award for the first time
Meanwhile, Grealish’s mega-money arrival in summer spelled further trouble for Sterling.
Sterling has been forced into a centre forward tole more often this season, having previously had success on the wing for City under Guardiola.
But that right-wing role has been taken by Gabriel Jesus this term and the addition of Grealish has created more competition on the left, meaning anytime Sterling does get handed is spent through the middle.
But perhaps the greatest reason for Sterling’s struggles is the change in the style of City’s game.
Guardiola has employed a more prolonged build up in play, which has been heavily facilitated by the signing of Grealish, as opposed to the combination of two rapid wingers and a killer striker they lethally executed through Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane.
The Citizens lost striker Sergio Aguero to Barcelona in the summer causing a tactical change
Since the change of approach, Sterling’s impact has increasingly diminished, most notably towards the tail end of last season.
Since February, in 32 appearances he has managed just four assists and six goals in all competitions, creating only 29 chances and 21 shots on target.
A switch in positional play could revive Sterling’s flatlining City career as the Manchester Blues are desperate for a challenging goal threat through the middle of their attack.
|All Competitions||Premier League|
|Shots, Total (inc. Blocks)||65||44|
|Shots, on Target||21||17|
|Shot Conversion Rate (inc. Blocks)||9.20%||11.40%|
|Touches in the Opp Box||213||130|
|Goals + Assists||10||8|
|Chances Created (inc. assists)||29||22|
If Sterling can tweak his game tactically he could reinvent himself to fit the new Guardiola mould.
And the Englishman reportedly has already vowed to the manager that he will impress in a more central role.
His chance could come on Saturday as City host Burnley after it emerged that Ferran Torres is facing at least a month on the sidelines.
Ferran Torres sustained a foot fracture during Spain’s Nations League final defeat last week
Torres suffered a small fracture in his foot during Spain’s Nations League final defeat by France last week. The 21-year-old had scored both of Spain’s goals in the semi-final win over Italy but is now likely to be missing until December.
Sterling has always been a player who wants to start every game and has long been accustomed to doing so.
But if this last ditch attempt at a City renaissance fails and the frosty relationship between player and manager continues, Sterling’s only solution could be to seek greener pastures.
So what are the options for Sterling after life with the champions?
Possible destinations after an Etihad Exit
Having developed with QPR’s Under-18s before making the switch to Liverpool’s academy set up and rising up through the ranks on Merseyside, Sterling’s career hasn’t ventured outside of England.
And he has now admitted that he is attracted to the challenge that a move abroad presents.
Barcelona have emerged as the strongest suitors on the continent as Sterling reportedly has been identified as a key target for the struggling Catalan giants in less than three months’ time when the transfer window opens.
And Sterling has already given his approval to a move to Spain, according to reports from SPORT.
‘There is money to spend’: Mundo Deportivo claim Sterling is a Barca target with Dani Olmo
The Catalans are in financial ruin, due to their debt which stands at more than £1billion, which contributed to LaLiga slashing their wage bill to a maximum of £90m – equivalent to that of Watford.
But Mundo Deportivo claims Ronald Koeman will still have £13.7m (€16m) in the winter transfer window as part of their FIFA Fair Play commitment despite the financial strain on the club.
That figure is extremely unlikely to be enough to pry Sterling out of City’s clutches – lack of game time or no – but an initial loan move has been mooted and that fee could be used to pay the Citizens on a temporary basis.
A U-turn back down the M62 is highly doubtful given the former Liverpool man is unlikely to return a ‘prodigal son’ to a warm and welcoming Kopite reception after his traitorous switch to Premier League rivals City back in 2015.
A return to his former side Liverpool following an Etihad exit is likely to be ruled out
Sterling left the Merseyside Reds for City in 2015 under a cloud of tension with the club
Aside from his less than favourable reputation among the Anfield faithful, the only benefit Sterling lends to Liverpool is that he is two years younger than Sadio Mane – and that’s not exactly the most persuasive argument to tempt the Reds into considering a move for him.
Meanwhile, Manchester United and Chelsea are also ruled out as contenders as neither side have any great need for him.
The London Blues are loaded with attacking options most notably £98m summer addition Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner who recently returned to form with a brace for Germany and will return to Stamford Bridge brimming with confidence.
Timo Werner’s brace against North Macedonia helped Germany to qualify for Qatar 2022
While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bolstered his attacking ranks this summer, which already featured the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani, with the signing of Jadon Sancho and shock return of Cristiano Ronaldo.
But that isn’t to say staying in the Premier League is completely ruled out for Sterling- though his options are limited.
Arsenal are reportedly interested in orchestrating a move for the England winger after being suggested admirers during the summer transfer window.
And Gunners legend Ian Wright has backed Sterling to make a move for the sake of his Three Lions career.
‘Whatever’s going on with City at some stage you look at the importance of Raheem Sterling, I think he proved that at the Euros,’ he said on ITV.
Ian Wright stressed that it is important that the winger is playing regularly at club level
‘Going into the Euros he wasn’t playing as frequently as he’d liked to have been playing but then he showed it at a tournament.
‘You’re looking at a player who is easily one of our most potent players who isn’t playing at his club, at some stage he’s going to have to sort it out. We know that Gareth will pick him and come the World Cup as long as he’s fit he’ll be going.’
Meanwhile, City were said to have offered him as makeweight to Tottenham as they looks to bring Harry Kane to the Etihad this summer.
But as a deflated-looking Kane plays out the start of the season at Spurs, Sterling is not likely to be heading southbound any time soon.
A deflated Harry Kane has hit a goalscoring drought, failing to score in the league this term
The latest – and potentially most intriguing – option to emerge is a newly taken-over Newcastle.
The Magpies were the subject of a highly-publicised £305m takeover from a Saudi-led consortium last week which made the club one of the wealthiest in world football.
With a big budget, Newcastle could look to splash the cash in January with a talent like Sterling high on the priority list.