Can Raheem Sterling build on his early success to quiet critics
Raheem Sterling has endured a rather turbulent summer. Going to the World Cup provides an opportunity for every player to file out for his country as the fans back their heroes to achieve success. England did have a good run in the tournament falling at the semifinal hurdle, but Sterling was singled out for criticism from different quarters.
The Three Lions were widely praised for their performance in the competition. Most of the players were hailed for their efforts. From goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to defenders John Stones, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier, it was all positive.
In the midfield, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard were also commended while captain Harry Kane led the line superbly upfront and came away with the golden boot. Sterling was however, one of the odd ones out. The Manchester City forward was roundly criticised for failing to put away chances and for his overall contribution to the team.
Gary Neville was also forced to raise his voice against the ''absolutely disgusting' singling-out of the player by England fans and parts of the media.
These criticisms started even before the competition proper, though. The 23-year-old was severely slated for having a tattoo of a gun on his right leg. He later had to explain that it was a reference to his father who was shot and killed when he was two years old. It was so much England manager Gareth Southgate came out to defend the player to minimize the effect of the criticisms on him.
Criticising Sterling has almost become a habit for some media outlets. He received a barrage of abuse following his £49million move from Liverpool to Manchester City in 2015.
Recall that the young player did nothing extraordinary as players like Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres and even Luis Suarez all followed the same path. They all left the Reds in search of Champions League football and more success elsewhere. Philippe Coutinho is the latest in this line. But Sterling still receives loud and consistent boos from Liverpool fans, particularly at Anfield.
But they are not the only ones. He was heavily blamed by the media after England's poor performance at EURO 2016. Being constantly criticised can hurt anyone. And Sterling is certainly not immune as he is a human being.
Speaking with ESPN, he stated: “I remember my first game at the Euros - I thought I did alright. Got past my opponent a couple of times, got a couple of balls in, and you just get caned (by the media).
“Now I am constantly thinking: “If I do this, something bad will come of it. If I go out tonight something bad is going to happen.”
The former Liverpool starman was amongst Pep Guardiola's most dependable players last season as Manchester City dominated the league. He ended the campaign with 18 goals for the club in the league second only to Sergio Aguero in the scoring charts for the club. It was his most prolific season ever. This shows his steady improvement as a player.
After resuming training with the club for the new season on Monday, he was the only alteration to the team that beat Chelsea in the Community Shield the previous Sunday. His brilliant goal for the Citizens put the club on course to be the first side to retain the Premier League title since Manchester United did it over a decade ago.
Consistently delivering on the pitch could be a good way to stay on the positive side of the headlines. This will definitely quite the critics. With other title rivals like Liverpool, Chelsea and even José Mourinho's Man United making a statement of their own with wins of their own, Man City will hope that the player will answer the critics with solid performances on the pitch.