In six years as Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola has never been bitten on the bottom by allowing a player to leave.
So the potential sale of Raheem Sterling to Chelsea could be the biggest gamble of his Etihad reign.
For a man who demands risk-taking from his players, the Catalan has been extremely cautious when it comes to allowing key players to take risks.
Usually those at the heart of Guardiola’s plans don’t leave until their elite playing days are over – like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Vinny Kompany, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
Displacing Joe Hart was a brave early cry that worked well. Leroy Sane and Ferran Torres were two decent players in their early twenties who wanted to leave.
But there was nothing with the potential to sting Guardiola as much as flogging Sterling.
The forward is 27 years old and has an excellent fitness record. He is a four-time title winner who was Footballer of the Year in 2019 and would have been Player of the Tournament at last summer’s European Championship had England won the penalty shoot-out in the final.
He has scored 109 goals in the Premier League. Among the players who aren’t quintessential forwards, only Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane have more.
Sterling is an A-lister – exciting dribbler, outspoken fighter, MBE and razor salesman.
Still, he was gradually ousted in City over two summers. Firstly through the arrival of £100million Jack Grealish who, like Sterling, prefers to start at the far left.
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And now, after a season in which Sterling often acted as a ‘false nine’, two young elite centre-forwards have been signed in Norway’s Erling Haaland and Argentina’s Julian Alvarez.
City’s attacking style is set to change with these additions and Sterling, along with Arsenal new signing Gabriel Jesus, looks like the two are making way.
Talks over a new deal for Sterling stalled last season and City would rather sell for almost £60million, even to rivals Chelsea, than allow him to enter the final year of his existing deal.
Sterling became uneasy late in the 2020-21 season when he was benched by City for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League.
During his stellar EURO campaign he hinted he was happier with England than City.
And last season, despite 23 Premier League starts and 13 goals, Sterling sat on the bench for both games in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
Sterling came on as a 56th-minute substitute in the title win over Aston Villa, after which he was instrumental in overcoming a 2-0 deficit.
Still, Guardiola doesn’t seem to like him enough.
A man as hardworking as the Catalan won’t be fooled by the idea that Sterling is simply missing too many chances – an accusation unsupported by statistical comparisons to other elite forwards.
Gareth Southgate – England’s most successful boss since Alf Ramsey, how vilified he is right now – has always sworn by Sterling despite several high-class wide options and clearly prefers him to Grealish.
So there’s disbelief – even among some City players – that Sterling will be allowed to leave.
It has not been denied that Sterling has already spoken to Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.
This would be an illegal “tap-up” if City had any qualms about allowing Sterling to join the Blues.
The move is also risky for Sterling – not just because of the notorious racist assault he suffered at Stamford Bridge three and a half years ago.
Chelsea are a club in transition, the team’s defense and club hierarchy are undergoing a complete overhaul and new owner Todd Boehly is currently opting for a jack-of-all-trades role rarely seen since dear old Ron Noades was in his glory.
With Romelu Lukaku gone and unlikely to be replaced anytime soon, Sterling could operate centrally as often as he did at City.
And after playing for Liverpool and City what else can Sterling achieve in English football? Why not move abroad with longtime admirers of Real Madrid and Barcelona?
It would be an intriguing move for Sterling and an impressive statement of intent from Boehly.
But for Guardiola, that notorious ‘overthinker’, this could be a rare instance where he hasn’t thought carefully enough.
ROO TO OWN IT
THERE is a trend that great former Prem players are now getting decent managerial jobs – including Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Vinny Kompany.
That trend didn’t exist a few years ago and it’s good news for Wayne Rooney as he completes his coaching qualifications ahead of a likely move to top management.
I visited Pride Park on Good Friday to watch Derby beat champions-elect Fulham just days before their own relegation to League One.
The spirit in a young Rams team hit by a massive points deduction and frequent sales from older players, along with strong home support, suggested Rooney had created something special amid adversity.
Those who never pictured Rooney as a successful boss tend to be the ones who never met him.
The all-time goalscorer for England and Manchester United could be the first to prove himself as a great both as Prem coach and player.
WEBB is so wise
HOWARD WEBB is not just a former World Cup final referee.
He’s an intelligent, forward-thinking, media-savvy man whose upcoming appointment as England’s chief referee is just what our black men need.
Under Webb’s leadership, referees should even be allowed to speak publicly again on a regular basis.
And then we might even know what the heck is going on with VAR.
JACK IS GREAT
DESPITE all the cheerful abandon of England’s positive approach to batting, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the New Zealand series was that Jack Leach was a real Test class crackpot.
Up until this weekend, Leach was best known as the guy who wiped the sweat off his glasses and hit a muddled run during the exceptional last wicket stand with Ben Stokes, who won the 2019 Ashes Test at Headingley.
Now, under the Stokes captain, Leach is finally thriving at his day job, with a ten-wicket haul at Leeds.
Three years ago, Leach was compared here as Clark Kent to Stokes’ Superman. But England’s skipper will soon be giving his old pal a pair of underpants to wear over his whites.
THE END OF AN ERA OF ICONS
THIS summer could be one last chance to see three all-time greats of British sport – Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray and Jimmy Anderson.
After seven world titles and losing a record eighth place, Hamilton, 37, is struggling to find motivation ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
And his once-superior Mercedes now resembles a rusty bell from Exchange and Mart.
At 35, Murray – Britain’s top tennis player since World War II – has a metal hip and could struggle to return to Wimbledon next year.
Anderson, the most prolific seam bowler in Test cricket history, turns 40 next month.
I once made the mistake of starting an interview with Anderson by assuming that next winter’s Australian tour would be his swan song – and that was five years ago.
So I’m not going to rule out the possibility of Anderson playing cricket at 50 Test. Or headlining Glastonbury at 80 is…
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/5650592/dave-kidd-raheem-sterling-pep-guardiola-risk-man-city-chelsea-transfer/ Dave Kidd: Selling Raheem Sterling to Chelsea is Pep Guardiola’s biggest Man City risk and it could bite his butt