At some time in the not too distant past, a large swathe of the sporting public made the decision that, for whatever reason, they didn’t like Raheem Sterling.
For many, he was just another overhyped and under-finessed English prospect not fit to lace the boots of the pubescent continental skill-bots who now comprise a significant part of most Premier League academies.
For others, it was a matter of pricing.
At roughly £50m in 2015, the fee he commanded when moving from Liverpool to Manchester City raised expectations to a level he was unable to reach in his first two seasons at the Etihad.
For the Brexity lunatic fringe, meanwhile, he has always been a little too ‘bling’ – euphemism alert – to merit their affection.
Remember this, for example?
Certain papers and online journals are interminably keen to point out the vast monetary expense of various Sterling investments – his home, his car, his ‘extra-curricular friendships’ – and bang on ad nauseum about his perceived irresponsibility, immaturity and ‘lack of footballing intelligence’.
It’s not particularly hard to read between the lines regarding this type of criticism.
Consequently, the narrative surrounding the young forward has often been horribly distorted, but also familiarly envious. ‘Too much, too young’ will be engraved on his headstone, if this type of detractor is to be believed.
Admittedly, Sterling spent most of 2015/16 and the first half of 2016/17 booting crosses directly into the stand or falling over himself while trying to control the ball. There’s no point in hiding from the fact that, sometimes, the criticism was not entirely off the mark.
But that madcap form has been behind him for nigh on an entire calendar year at this stage. And yet the fawning praise heaped on the likes of Dele Alli and Harry Kane over the past 12 months has been mostly conspicuous by its absence for the Jamaica-born winger.
The era of Raheem is now truly upon us. If England are to have any kind of success at international level, he will be at the heart of it. Sterling is only four months older than Dele, but looks an infinitely more polished and explosive player – frankly, the gap between the two is a large one. The Tottenham midfielder may go on, eventually, to justify the hyperbole, but at the moment he can only aspire to be anywhere near his contemporary’s level.
Moreover, Sterling has become a key member of the best team in the Premier League, a flitting, irrepressible presence scuttling up and down the flanks for Manchester City. It helps that he’s being prompted, directed and assisted by some of the world’s finest attacking midfielders, but there’s no denying he has been integral to his side’s progress both at home and in Europe.
Without Sterling, City wouldn’t be where they are.
He is trusted by Pep Guardiola – and what better judge of talent can there be? Being under Guardiola’s wing has improved Sterling almost beyond measure, and the fact that the former Barcelona boss has actually bothered to afford him the time of day in the first place is proof of the Englishman’s gifts. Pep, famously, doesn’t waste minutes, let alone months, on players he sees as not being worth it.
If Pep thinks Raheem is good enough to justify not just his attention, but also a place in his starting XI, then so should you.
It’s time we all booked a prime seat on board the Sterling bandwagon.