When Raheem Sterling was finally able to speak to Thomas Tuchel about his new role at Chelsea, the Germany manager told the 27-year-old he had a few different ideas about his game. Tuchel felt Sterling had a tendency to seek the ball on foot and told him to ‘go behind’, ‘attack the penalty area’. In other words, look ahead.
It fits very well with the mood Sterling is in as he sits in front of the media on a scorching Thursday afternoon at Chelsea’s Cobham training base to officially introduce him as a Chelsea player. Two issues from his recent past inevitably come up.
One is the alleged racial abuse he suffered at Chelsea as a Manchester City player during a December 2018 game that saw a supporter banned from Stamford Bridge for life. The other is his relationship with Pep Guardiola and the way he fell out of favor at City so abruptly.
Sterling addresses both confidently, but with the goal of moving beyond such issues and looking to the future.
This is particularly true on the issue of abuse, where Sterling is again demonstrating an impressive maturity and progressiveness that others could learn from. When he signed for Chelsea, one of the most frequently raised topics – particularly in the expendable discussion on social media – was how he went to a club where he witnessed an incident which he admitted was a “watershed moment” in his represented life.
However, the player hardly thought about it.
“I saw a brief thing about it yesterday,” he says. “That was the first time I remembered it. It wasn’t anything that came to mind at all. I cannot allow an incident by individuals to change my perception of the club.”
However, the fallout caused a change in his worldview, which becomes very clear when you ask him if he would like to meet with the supporter now.
“I have no hatred or malice towards individuals. That’s something I could do right here, now, or tomorrow. That is not the problem.
“I think my main focus is to move away from the racist cause and focus more on nurturing and nurturing the youth as I grow up and giving them a map of what the world has ahead of them and them to show that they can manifest a lot of stuff if they just put in the time and take care of themselves… it showed me what my real goal is outside of football. Of course football is my main goal and talent, but the other thing I enjoy the most is helping people. So after that incident, I moved away from the racist side and focused on helping and empowering young people more.”
He has clearly evolved into a very well-rounded individual as his career comes full circle as well. Sterling admits returning to London after 22 years “made sense” for both his career and his family. Known as a talent as a west London kid, he laughs it’s “more than likely” Chelsea approached him when he was young.
However, there’s a hint that if things had gone differently at City, he wouldn’t be here yet. While Sterling describes his time at the club as ‘living the dream’, the last two seasons have been nothing but difficulties.
He speaks somewhat cryptically about his relationship with Guardiola when Sterling suddenly found himself out of the team.
“That was a big surprise. It was a huge surprise…a sudden change of events. It’s something I’ve had to deal with and that’s why I’m here.
“Me and the manager and the people at the club know exactly what the reasons were. I tried to play my football and overcome the situation but it didn’t work so I had to keep going.
“I’ve been a regular starter since I was 17 and to reach the peak of my career, not playing regularly was something I wouldn’t accept. My personality is to fight and change the scenario, but it didn’t come and that was it.”
Some at the city’s training ground feel that there has been an increasing tension and distance between manager and player. Guardiola can be undeniably intense and some can indulge in that longer than others. However, Sterling just couldn’t accept not playing.
That’s why he was open to Chelsea when the move was made ‘towards the end of last season’.
“I got a call while I was in Jamaica to say it was getting hot,” Sterling says. “That’s when I realized how serious it was.
“I felt my playing time [Man] City was restricted for various reasons and I couldn’t afford to waste any more time. Looking back into the future, I never wanted to look back and see an up and then a down. So my feeling was that I had to stay at the same level and a new challenge was needed.”
Chelsea didn’t have to sell him the club.
“With the few other options I had, this one was more tailored to my personal goals. If you look at Chelsea over the last few years I think they’ve been in four finals out of five, it’s a team that competes and keeps getting better. It made a lot of sense to me with the new ownership and acquisition.”
However, Tuchel sold the role.
“He told me my directness, always threatening from behind, not always wanting to get in my feet, going in from behind. But the most important thing is how I attack the box and with the full backs we have here he said that’s the only thing he wants to see a lot more so that was the talk there.
If it’s true that Sterling and Guardiola don’t have a warm relationship now, the Catalan has undoubtedly developed him as a player and changed his perspective. Sterling says he knows his role on the City team “like the back of my hand”. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be anything like that with Chelsea.
Sterling doesn’t see as many similarities between his new manager and his old one as others do.
“It’s two different systems, two different styles of play. We have a lot of possession here, City have a lot of possession, but it’s completely different. Both want different things. I’m adapting very well here. It’s honeymoon time now, but it’s like being really optimistic about something and dreaming about something – there I am.”
And from then on he only looks ahead.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/raheem-sterling-chelsea-man-city-guardiola-b2143245.html Raheem Sterling via ManCity to Chelsea, Pep Guardiola and looking forward