Few would have believed Raheem Sterling would soon be uttered in the same sentence as Lionel Messi when he made his move to Man City in 2015.
There was no question of Sterling’s talent as he burst onto the scene with Liverpool as a 17-year-old.
But a messy contract dispute and a hefty £49 million transfer fee soon led to scepticism among football figures.
Fast forward four years and Sterling appears to have the world at his feet, with Barcelona legend Xavi claiming the 24-year-old can be “the best in the world'”
“You look at young players who can be crowned the future best in the world and you still think of Neymar, Mbappe, Salah, and of course Sterling, Xavi said. “I look at the moment – and Sterling is winning that race.”
It has been a remarkable rise for the forward, who had managed just 18 goals in three seasons when City broke the bank to make him the most expensive English player ever.
Sterling already has five goals in as many matches in this Premier League season, after netting 17 last term.
Much of his improvement has come under current boss Pep Guardiola, but Sterling’s status as a world-class attacker will be no surprise to those who have worked closely with the England star.
Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers oversaw most of Sterling’s career at Anfield, and said early into his time at the club: “I have seen a lot of development in him in a short time.
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“He takes on a lot of the concepts and he is very good with instructions. Normally wingers want to do their own thing but he is tactically improving every day.
“I am certain over the next few years that he will develop into a very good footballer. We just have to make sure that we keep the pressure off him.
“The great thing is that his attitude is wonderful. He is really focused. He comes in and he works well. He produces and he is effective on the pitch.”
Sterling played a big part in Liverpool’s title charge of 2014, forming a formidable relationship with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in attack.
But his time at the club came to a bitter end when he turned down a £100k-a-week contract offer from the Anfield club to force through a mega-money move to City.
Ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said of the transfer: “I never envisaged he would become as good as he is and thought Liverpool had secured a good deal to get just under £50 million. I was wrong. By the end of his career it will be obvious City bought him at a bargain price.”