Raheem Sterling is right there with the most in-form players in world football at the moment but says he cannot yet compare to the two modern greats in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The City man has enjoyed a stunning few months – but he knows he has some way to go to be considered amongst the world’s very best.
Sterling led England to a 5-3 win over Kosovo on Tuesday night and has been in remarkable form throughout 2019.
It has led to the debate of the Manchester City attacker being talked up as amongst the top few players in world football – but he says he must maintain these standards for a longer period of time to establish himself amongst the elite.
After his performance at St Mary’s, Sterling was asked about getting close to the level of established top two Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the debate for the world’s best player.
He responded (via Goal):
“As I said you look at these players the most remarkable thing about them is that they do it not just for two or three seasons, but through their whole career, season after season.
“This is my first at a high level and I have just got to continue.
“Keep trying and learning and trying to get to the top.”
For a man of his calibre, just how much more of an upgrade will be required to get to Ronaldo and Messi’s level?
For a player who has had a topsy-turvy career, the rise of Raheem Sterling has been somewhat meteoric.
Liverpool took note of his raw potential as a 15-year-old at Queens Park Rangers and swooped to sign him on an initial £600k deal (rising to £5mil with add-ons) in early 2010. He was made to bide his time playing with the reserves until he made his senior debut in late 2012.
Sterling continued to go from strength to strength over the following seasons and firmly established himself as one of football’s hottest properties culminating in being awarded the prestigious ‘Golden Boy’ award in 2014. Previous winners include: Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney.
Things on the pitch were going well but off the pitch the Liverpool fans and the media were beginning to sour on Raheem as rumours circulated that he was angling for a huge pay rise while also finding himself in trouble with the law.
All of this came to a head in the summer of 2015 when Manchester City agreed a deal of up to £49m to bring him to the Etihad Stadium. Being the most expensive English player of all time brought a certain level of expectation with it and Sterling initially struggled with the pressure associated with the price tag.
It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola took over in 2016 that Sterling started to mature into a well-rounded footballer who was more than just a speedy winger.
Guardiola recognised the precocious talent of Sterling and developed a game plan which would bring out the best in his winger.
The result has been a dramatic increase in both goals and assists. Being surrounded by players the calibre of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva has helped Sterling become the player he is today.
It won’t be out of place to call him one of the top three if not the most influential player in the Premier League right now.
His role in City’s unprecedented treble triumph last season is one players would beg to achieve.
Raheem Sterling has now been directly involved in 40 goals across all competitions this season:
• 51 games
• 25 goals
• 15 assists
A season worthy of three trophies. ? pic.twitter.com/CFP0cfDY5W
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 18, 2019
Back to the earlier context, how can Sterling match the level of Ronaldo and Messi?
The answer is simple – goals and lots of them. His comments have made life easier for us admitting he needs to be more consistent. But asides that even, his numbers must increase – and with a good margin.
A little more perspective on the matter.
17 Premier League goals to his name last season, seven in nine games (club and country) already this term – Raheem Sterling looks all set for another brilliant campaign (via Whoscored).
The Manchester City forward had a “perfect” campaign in 2018-19.
He was named the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, the PFA Young Player of the Year, made it into the PFA Team of the Year as his goals helped his team win the Premier League for the second successive year in a treble-winning season.
On the international scene, he has also developed into a key player for Gareth Southgate’s England, has been lauded as “special” by his club manager Pep Guardiola and, at 24, his best years are still ahead of him.
Sterling scored 25 goals in all competitions last season – his highest in a single campaign. Impressive numbers really – but put beside a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, one would have to double his efforts to stand a noteworthy inclusion alongside the two greats.
Put into comparison, Ronaldo at 34, ten years older than Raheem Sterling bagged 28 goals in 43 appearances last season. It’s interesting to note that was also his lowest scoring tally in a decade.
The lowest tally the Portuguese international has had in the past decade prior to last season was 33 goals (via Marca) which he bagged in the 2009/11 season. Also aged 24 at the time is which coincidentally the same age Sterling currently is in his best season so far.
Meaning a 24-year-old Ronaldo in the same growing timeline as Sterling would still have easily dominated the Englishman and taken all plaudits for himself – just as he still does till present.
A picture of Ronaldo’s goals scored at Madrid since 2009 sends a clearer message.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner hit more than 40 goals in six of his nine campaigns in the Spanish capital, even managing 60 in 2011/12 and 61 in 2014/15.
In summary, Sterling’s best season so far would be a drop in the ocean compared to Ronaldo’s scoring numbers when they were at the same age.
It even gets more interesting when you realized Ronaldo only scored a low (by his standards) 33 goals in his first season at Real Madrid because he was still adapting and trying to blend fully with the team.
In simple terms, an adapting Ronaldo scored more than a settled and “in-form” Raheem Sterling did. Understandable enough.
Now using Messi as a yardstick. At 24 years, Sterling has played a remarkably similar amount of football to Messi when the Argentina international was the same age.
The difference between the amount of assists each player had provided at that stage of their career is not vast – 90 for Messi compared to 68 for Sterling – but it is Messi’s goal-scoring prowess that sets him apart.
While 25 goals was a career-high for Sterling, Messi’s lowest total in the past 11 seasons is 38 goals. Even higher than that of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Further proving the point that Sterling has to do better to match these numbers.
Raheem Sterling is no doubt a talented player but for him to exist in such elevated company as Messi and Ronaldo, his numbers will need to improve significantly.
Playing in a balanced squad and under the guidance of the best manager in the world (arguably), the Englishman has all that he needs to improve his game and watch his tally double up with time.