“It’s a problem,” Pep Guardiola said of Raheem Sterling’s transfer fee when he was asked to comment on the player’s move from Liverpool to Manchester City, that had occurred a year earlier.
Guardiola had just been named the new manager of City and, as far as introductions go, it wasn’t exactly a reassuring one for the England winger.
The Spaniard had been confirmed as the new manager back in February and from that time on was quizzed on all manner of things relating to the club.
“I think Fernandinho can play in ten different positions,” he said at his first City news conference.
“He has the quality to play wherever. He’s a quick, fast player. So intelligent, aggressive and strong in the air. He has the quality to create good build-up play.”
“It’s amazing,” he said of the club’s facilities. “For the first team, women’s team and youth teams, it is the best place to hone talent.”
The public praise for Sterling, however, was a little harder to find.
But it was reported that the manager had reached out to him during the European Championship, to reassure him that he would have a place in his team.
The reason for this call came in the wake of a disappointing season for the winger, where he found himself frequently consigned to the bench under former manager Manuel Pellegrini.
His big money move had failed to yield the kind of performance and results that were expected from him in his first year at the Etihad Stadium.
It was unrealistic to expect him to hit the ground running and set the world alight straight away, but when he didn’t the knives came out in the media.
This situation was then further compounded with his poor showing in the summer.
In France, he performed like a player woefully devoid of confidence. He was guilty of frequently giving the ball away cheaply. He often chose the wrong pass options and he wasted a number of chances in front of goal.
In many ways, he became a scapegoat for England’s dreadful campaign that saw them crash out against minnows Iceland in the round of 16.
However, despite his struggles at City his place in England’s squad was never in doubt, but questions arose about his starting berth after a disappointing first showing against Russia.
It was in the following game against Wales though that he received the most criticism.
In his 45 minute appearance – he was substituted at half-time – Sterling managed to touch the ball just 22 times. He had one shot, a terrible miss, and created no chances for his team mates.
The Telegraph noted, “Sterling attempted two dribbles, but was successful with neither. He won just one of the eight duels he contested and completed just eight passes… Of his 22 touches, 11 resulted in him giving away possession.”
He was booed throughout the match by his own fans, and every mistake was greeted with vitriolic anger rather than encouragement.
The winger even posted a picture on his Instagram account where he labelled himself as “The Hated One.” His confidence and standing within the game was at an all-time low.
Doubts about his ability to fit into a Guardiola coached side started to emerge, while before this season started Jamie Redknapp even went as far as to say that former Liverpool winger Jordan Ibe actually had “more natural ability” than him.
Joey Barton went a few steps further in a column he wrote for the French magazine L’Equipe.
He certainly didn’t miss when he criticised Sterling’s final product, labelling him as having been poor for “two years” and questioned whether he’d even be a professional footballer if he didn’t have his lightning pace.
It was a harsh assessment but it reflected what many had come to believe. It was also symptomatic of the treatment past English players had been on the receiving end of too.
It’s seemingly a well-trodden path in which they are built up as they begin their careers only to then be knocked back down once it’s seen that they’ve become arrogant or not fulfilled their potential.
Consequently, thoughts about where Sterling’s mental state would be come the new season were understandably in question.
His new manager seemed worried by the youngster’s price tag and the inevitable pressures which that brought while his performances were stuck in a rut.
Amidst all the negative statements, bad league form, and woeful EURO 2016 campaign though there was the almost forgotten quality of his potential.
After all, when City decided to part with £49 million for him, he did become England’s most expensive player ever.
Barely a month into the new campaign and Sterling has started to prove his worth under the tutelage of Guardiola.
“People will talk and stuff like that. But the most important thing for me was to come in and do well under the new manager,” Sterling recently told reporters.
His performances on the pitch have been in stark contrast to what he’d been producing a few months earlier.
Sterling’s role in the side has changed slightly as he has been given more responsibility within Guardiola’s system.
Usually a willing worker, the winger has been tasked with tracking back and working as part of an aggressive defence as well as taking his game in the final third of the pitch up another few levels.
Whereas before he was often ineffective in front of goal and lacked the composure to deliver the vital final ball.
At the beginning of the 2016/2017 campaign he seems to be a player with a newfound sense of confidence.
The 21-year-old has impressed as he has helped City to an unbeaten start to the season. Against West Ham United struck two goals, and has provided four assists in just five starts so far.
For many there is still a long way to go before he justifies his price tag and the hype. But the young English winger is certainly on the right path.
Under Guardiola he has found a manager who brings out the best in him. His productivity has skyrocketed due to a system in which the fluid movement of the front players and reliance on width has suited his game perfectly.
With so much of the season left to play it is still too early to declare it, but Raheem Sterling may just be about to have his redemption.