Football Features

What does Euro 2020 mean for Raheem Sterling’s Manchester City career?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:20, 15 July 2021

Raheem Sterling was one of the very best players at Euro 2020, but what’s the next step for the Manchester City man?

With Sterling watching on, 10 spot-kicks came and went at Wembley as England lost the final of Euro 2020 to Italy on penalties. No one really knows why Sterling didn’t take one of England’s five penalties, although if you look back over his last five seasons at Manchester City in the Premier League, the winger has taken just four spot-kicks and scored only one of those.

So perhaps the answer is as simple as that. He didn’t take one because he’s not very good at them (by contrast, however, he has won a colossal 16 penalties since Guardiola took over at City, the most in the league over that period).

What is most illuminating about the expectation that Sterling would take a penalty despite him not really doing so for a club that has plenty of them. People just assumed he would step up, why? Because he had been that good at the Euros themselves.

It’s hard to put into context how brilliant Sterling was for the first six games of Euro 2020 and how much he carried what in the end was a pretty ordinary and prosaic England side to the brink of glory.

Until Harry Kane’s goal against Germany, 355 minutes into Euro 2020, the only goals England had scored came from the boot of Sterling. And when England needed an early goal to break open the quarter-final against Ukraine, Kane delivered it but only thanks to the genius pass into the box from Sterling.

Then, against Denmark, it was the threat of Sterling’s presence that caused Simon Kjaer to lunge at Bukayo Saka’s cross and turn it into his own goal. Had the Danish captain left the ball, Sterling would have scored his fourth of the tournament. But even though he didn’t score, Sterling terrorised Denmark with a magical display of dribbling. He completed a phenomenal 10 take-ons against the Danes (20 overall at the Euros, more than anyone else) as he danced and drove the ball deep into their half, repeatedly causing havoc.

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In the final itself he, like everyone in England white that wasn’t a defensive player, was underwhelming. But England only made it to that showpiece because of Sterling’s supreme form; the undoubted star-man for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions and a justified member of UEFA’s team of the tournament.

The question now becomes… what next?

Part of why Sterling was so effective for England in a summer where most other elite players looked exhausted was how little he played in games of consequence for Manchester City in the latter parts of the season.

Sterling started just two of City’s matches in the knockout rounds of the Champions League (the first leg of the round-of-16 and the final itself) and registered just 10 total minutes played across quarter and semi-finals.

He played more in the Premier League, notching 90 minutes in five of City’s last 10 games. Of course, most of those came with City well ahead in the title race and, indeed, the last two came after City had been crowned champions. As as much as he played 90 minutes in half the games, he also played zero minutes in four of them.

And, of course, he ended the season with just 14 goals, less than half his total from the previous season where he bagged 31 and the first time he dipped below 20 goals since Guardiola’s first season in 2016/17.

Sterling cannot have been happy with such a diminished role, and there was talk of Sterling being ready to leave City after rumours emerged that he was being offered to Spurs as a makeweight in a potential deal to bring Harry Kane to Manchester.

Lowered minutes, others moving ahead of him, it all looked like he was heading for the exit.

But then the Euros happened. And Sterling’s stock has soared in valuation. Now, the cynical could say this is the perfect time for Manchester City to sell high, but the fact is the elite clubs around Europe that could afford Sterling has, thanks to the global pandemic, shrunk to one team: PSG. And they have Neymar or Kylian Mbappé playing Sterling’s position.

Sides that could make do with him but don’t have the funds like Barcelona and Bayern Munich do exist, and then Real Madrid are always happy to sign players after great showings at international tournaments but they’re just as broke as Barca.

With his avenues to leave cut off, Sterling will simply have to knuckle down and try and win his spot back in the City side.

The thing is, he probably will do just that.

It sounds overly simple but Sterling lost his spot in the City first XI because, not to put too fine a point on it, he wasn’t playing very well. Even in games where he’d score, he rarely played well. He was especially underwhelming in the Champions League group stages which is likely why he featured so sparsely in the knockout rounds.

Such were the quality of his displays at Euro 2020, however, that he will head back to Manchester full of confidence that he is every bit the world-class winger we had all come to accept him as. The dynamic goalscoring threat from either the left or the right who could be an on-ball dribbler just as well as a poacher to show up at the back-post and score tap-ins. There is no doubt that he will simply play better, and when Sterling plays as well as he can do, he’s a lock to make City’s first XI. Sure, he’ll have to perform all season, but that’s the point of competition!

And if the challenge of getting his place back in the City side wasn’t enough, there is now a genuine challenger for his crown of best winger in Manchester with the arrival of Jadon Sancho at United. The desire to assert himself in his adopted city and continue to prove that he is the best of England’s wing wonders should be motivation enough to keep Raheem Sterling going at Manchester City for a while yet.


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