30 August 2017

Raheem Sterling was one of Pep Guardiola’s key men, now he’s just being used as transfer bait as Man City try to lure Alexis Sanchez

RAHEEM STERLING thought Pep Guardiola had his back.

Last summer, when some savages on social media were slaughtering him for his performance against Russia at Euro 2016, Pep intervened.

Pep Guardiola once had Raheem Sterling’s back… but not anymore
PA:Press Association
Raheem Sterling had been told he was free to leave Man City this summer

Manchester City’s incoming super-coach sent the £44million winger a supportive text as he toiled with the demands of tournament football in France.

Pep wrote: “As long as you work for me, I’ll fight for you. Keep your head up, don’t worry, I know you’re a good player and you are a big part of my plans.”

Not any more.

Despite his deflected 97th-minute winner at Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime, Sterling is surplus to requirements.

The England winger, preparing for World Cup qualifiers on Friday against Malta and Slovakia on Monday, was told he could leave in the summer.

One year into Pep’s makeover, one of his first signings had been available for transfer.

Raheem Sterling scored a dramatic winner at Bournemouth on Saturday
Rex Features

They were not kicking him out of the door, but he was free to walk through it all the same.

Sterling, who has been moved infield to a more orthodox No 10 position by Guardiola after scoring three times in four pre-season games, has a big call to make.

He is free to stay at City, to fight for his place in a bulging squad of players that includes David Silva, Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne.

Guardiola has an endless supply of top quality players to choose from in forward positions.

If he can persuade Arsenal to sell Alexis Sanchez before the deadline, he will be fully stocked.

Sterling, pulling in a staggering £180,000 a week at the Etihad, will suddenly start to feel like the odd man out.

Alexis Sanchez looks set to leave Arsenal... but which other stars are running out of contract?
Manchester City want to sign Alexis Sanchez before Thursday’s deadline
Rex Features
Arsene Wenger has not given up on signing Thomas Lemar and Virgil van Dijk
Arsene Wenger will need to weigh up the decision whether he wants to work with Raheem Sterling
Getty Images – Getty

In the short term he will miss City’s next game, suspended after being sent-off for a second booking in the dramatic 2-1 win at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium.

In the long-term he faces an uncertain future, fearful that he will be squeezed out by Guardiola as his latest City side starts to take shape.

Sterling is a good player, but Guardiola is the man who was sold on him when he told City to sign him from Liverpool in 2015. He arrived a year before Pep, with the Catalan coach seeing out the final 12 months of his contract at Bayern Munich.

Guardiola coveted Sterling, keeping in regular contact with the former QPR trainee in the months leading up to his move to Manchester.

Suddenly Sterling is a makeweight, the bait being used to lure Arsenal into selling their prized asset.

Sterling plus cash for Sanchez makes perfect sense to City.

They are swarming all over Sanchez, convinced that they can still force through this move in the final hours of the transfer window.

Raheem Sterling would have to give up Champions League football to play for Arsenal
PA:Press Association

His lazy, motionless, disinterested performance during Arsenal’s 4-0 defeat at Liverpool last Sunday has given them further encouragement.

Sterling, voted Golden Boy in 2014, is another talent.

Six years younger than Sanchez, at 22, there is still time for him to fulfil that vast potential.

It is seen, in fits and starts, for club and country.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, weighing up the prospect of working with Sterling, wants to coach fully committed players.

He would get that with Sterling, bringing in a player who is willing to accept that it has not quite worked out for him at City.

It would be no disgrace to move to Arsenal. He would be giving up Champions League football with City for the guarantee of a first-team starting berth at the Emirates.

Raheem Sterling scores a last minute winner for Manchester City at Bournemouth and then gets sent of for celebrating
Alexis Sanchez stars in funny new Chilean mobile phone advert

It must be tempting. Londoner Sterling appears to be up for the move down south, even if it means disrupting England’s preparations for their World Cup qualifier in Malta on Friday.

Gareth Southgate’s squad travel on Thursday and the head coach wants the future of the players sorted before they set off.

It is down to Wenger now, with time running out to get a complicated deal involving two high-profile players sorted out before the deadline.

If he goes ahead with it, at least Sterling will know where he stands.

Keep up to date with all the latest news, gossip, rumours and done deals in SunSport’s live transfer blog

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