I couldn’t be happier for Raheem Sterling right now.
As much as I admire Man City’s old guard of Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, it was the England winger who I was most pleased for as champagne dampened the Etihad turf at the weekend.
Still just 23-years-old, it feels as though Sterling has been a pantomime villain of English football for an age now.
His transfer to Man City angered Liverpool fans and led to him being branded a ‘snake’ in Merseyside and beyond.
He was made a scapegoat for England’s ultimately shambolic showing at Euro 2016.
And despite reaching double figures for goals in his first two seasons with City, not to mention a shed-load of assists last season, many neutrals labelled him a ‘flop’ signing.
Add in the bizarre ‘articles’ shaming him for still needing nutrients to survive despite missing out on Young Player of the Year, or having the audacity to buy his mum a house, and it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that the talented winger has had a rough ride.
This season, he’s been a key cog in City’s title-winning machine.
A viral clip of Pep Guardiola teaching Sterling to receive the ball on the half-turn led to widespread praise of the Catalan gaffer earlier this season.
Everyone marvelled at Guardiola’s ability to turn a ‘flop’ into a match-winning sensation.
While the ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich tactician certainly deserves credit for improving his player, I couldn’t help but feel the spotlight was unfairly shone away from Sterling himself.
So here it is, no caveats, no agendas, no backhanded compliments…
Congratulations, Raheem — you are brilliant.
Even when his form has deserted him, Sterling has not lacked endeavour or focus.
The animosity towards him seems to stem from the fact he decided to leave Liverpool (a decision now justified) and a few disappointing performances in an England shirt when he was far from the only below par performer.
Put simply, he has been unfairly treated.
And that’s why I couldn’t help but cheer along as he lifted the Premier League trophy, safe in the knowledge that his contribution to the triumph was ultra significant.
Sterling is one of only nine players in Europe’s top five leagues to have reached double figures for both goals and assists at the time of writing.
Some names who are yet to achieve this feat with very few minutes of the campaign remaining include Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Kylian Mbappe.
And don’t forget all those last-gasp clutch goals.
Sterling has outscored Roberto Firmino, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in the league.
He’s provided more assists than Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil and Paul Pogba.
I’m not digging out these players I’m using as comparisons — superb talents one and all.
I’m simply illustrating exactly what Sterling has achieved this season, an ascension to a higher level.
He’s gone from a player who was almost universally derided, to one of the league’s most inspirational figures.
Given time to think, his finishing can still be improved.
But his instinctive first-time finishes, which have come about from his willingness to get himself into scoring positions time and time again, are a devastating feature of his game, and one that’s almost impossible to defend against.
Those who previously labelled Sterling as a ‘flop’ were foolish enough to reckon him a finished product in his early 20s.
I am guilty myself of overlooking the fact he still had a considerable capacity to improve.
With 23 goals in all competitions from 45 games this season, the fact Sterling may not have even reached his peak yet should frighten the life out of Europe’s defenders.
Enjoy these days, Raheem, you deserve this success as much as anyone.