In a recent article about England lacking a maverick midfielder, Chris Waddle was extremely flippant in his assessment of Manchester City and England attacker, Raheem Sterling’s efforts last season.
“He scored 22 goals last season, but – no disrespect – I would’ve scored 22 goals in that Manchester City team. Sterling is a wide player, who will upset full-backs and chip in, but he is not a natural goal scorer and he is not a game-changer.” Waddle told the BBC.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s likely to be just a throw away comment about Sterling’s qualities. However it’s becoming increasingly popular to make the 23-year-old the scapegoat and to dismiss his qualities as a footballer, despite his obvious, massive improvements over the past few seasons.
Stating the obvious
December 2012, a muted Anfield sat in unimpressed silence as their team huffed and puffed to a 1-0 win over Southampton. Brendan Rodgers’ men had plenty of chances to put to the match to bed and once chance in particular fell to the then teenage Raheem Sterling, with the goal at his mercy.
Sitting right behind goal that day, it was obvious that this talented kid, may be a lot of things, but he was not a natural goal scorer. He pondered and froze in the box, his decision making was almost mechanical and in the end, he allowed Southampton to out muscle him out and force an unlikely goal kick.
However frustrating it was at times, with the youngster in the team, it was clear that he wasn’t born with a striker’s instinct. Many are, but if you don’t have it, you can’t really be coached into becoming a prolific, instinctive marksman. However, the consensus amongst most fair-minded fans, was that this was just a minor flaw in his game. He was still a decent player, with plenty to offer, and still so young.
As he has made his rise through the foothills and fringes at Liverpool, to making it as an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s centurions last season, Sterling has been dogged with an at times, over bearing amounts of criticism. It has at times bordered on obsession by the media and former pros.
Often it’s his lack of a scoring threat for England that’s been the stick to beat him with. However, it’s a very unhelpful and unfair criticism of the youngster. More than that, stating the bloody obvious and making such a big deal over his three year goal drought at international level may have actually exacerbated the problem for Sterling.
He is after all a winger, and wouldn’t be the first talented player to struggle for frequent goals in an England shirt. Andy Cole and John Barnes, for example, scored just twelve times between them in a combined ninety-four caps, despite their heroics and proficiency for their clubs.
Real quality from a street footballer
To dismiss Sterling for a lack of goals for his country is to really do him a disservice. He has been an integral part of Guardiola’s winning machine and for such an esteemed coach to play him so regularly is a clear sign of the player’s quality.
Another criticism of Sterling was that he simply didn’t chip in at the vital moments in games. Often scoring the third of forth gaols in a routine thumping. However, five match-winning goals for his club, before Christmas last season have now surely put that one to bed. Those goals were also a sign that the player was becoming more than just a luxury man, with a few cute step overs. He was now a player of real quality and rightfully forging a career for himself at the very highest level of the game.
Not bad when you consider that just over a decade ago he was a lad suffering badly in school as a problem pupil with behavioural issues. A underprivileged kid from Jamaica, his rise to the top should be an inspiration to all kids out there trying to make it in the game. It’s odd, that not more is made of a lad playing football on the streets, rising to become a Premier League champion and an England regular. Surely that is something to sound out, rather than a below average goal return and a penchant for the odd Greggs?
In fairness to his critics, two goals in forty-four England caps is not a fair return for an attacking player. However, he’s also managed to chip in with seven assists in those forty-four caps and his ceaseless running and excellent movement is a real asset against deep lying defences.
Involved in a staggering forty goals for Manchester City last season, Sterling has become one of the most effective wide players in the game. He adds pace and skill to any attacking line up and should be allowed to become the player he can be for England.
You only need to look at what’s he doing for City week in, week out to see that he has become one of the most valuable youngsters in the English game. He’s also still improving, as his goal against Newcastle last weekend showed. The confidence in him to take on a couple of defenders, before bending the ball past Dubravka in to the far corner was the work of someone at the very top of their game. As he continues to progress the goals for his country will surely follow and finally put an end to the nonsense and dismissive comments made by former pros who really should know better.