Raheem Sterling is bossing both the Premier League and the internet

In Depth
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Raheem Sterling has been dealing with big issues lately, but he’s also getting more dominant on the pitch… and on Twitter.

Over the last few months, Sterling has made some very important social media posts. One of them, in December, was a particularly big deal, turning the Manchester City forward into a figurehead for social change.

The effect of that post has already been massive. Fans have pledged their allegiance to Sterling’s cause, while tabloid journalists have looked around awkwardly, finally called out by somebody they have relentlessly and unfairly criticised.

But that’s not all.

Not long after that seismic moment before Christmas, Sterling reposted a video of a goose, noting the similarity between its running style and his own. For drawing attention to it, the City attacker earned 162,000 likes.

Trivial though the goose video may be, the two forms of online interaction are probably not as unrelated as they seem.

Because while the England international has, according to everyone who knows him, always been a hugely likeable guy, he has rarely been particularly open with the public – and for good reason.

Now, however, fans are getting a chance to know the real Sterling: someone who cares deeply about the big issues, but who is also, importantly, really funny.

A quick glance at Sterling’s Twitter shows a big increase in casual posts over the last few months. Not just platitudes like ‘we go again’ and ‘great to get the three points’, but genuine banter with fans and team-mates.

Since breaking his silence on some very serious problems in the game, the 24-year-old has effectively come out of his shell online, and it’s been brilliant to watch.

Weirdly, Sterling isn’t even injured. Rather than ‘doing a Mendy’ and commissioning a range of emojis or something because he has nothing else to do, the attacker is in top form. One day he’s ribbing Aymeric Laporte for his shit dancing; the next he’s scoring a hat-trick against Watford.

On the pitch and on Twitter, Sterling is killing it.

Back of the net

After making his Premier League debut for Liverpool as a 17-year-old, Sterling was often criticised for his finishing.

He had everything, it seemed, except the composure to put the ball in the net. Liverpool legend John Barnes even cruelly suggested – although it’s unclear how cruel he intended it to sound – that the youngster would be another Theo Walcott if he didn’t improve his shooting.

It was a low blow from one former Red to another.

But everything changed last season. In his second campaign under Pep Guardiola, Sterling scored 18 league goals, including a string of late, match-winning strikes.

He found his shooting boots, and he used them when it mattered most. City might not have won the title without them.

And while this season has brought about massive changes to Sterling’s life off the pitch, that new goalscoring touch hasn’t deserted him.

In 2017-18, the forward scored a league goal every 144 minutes. In 2018-19, he’s getting one every 143. He’s even scoring for England, having bagged a long-overdue brace in the 3-2 thriller against Spain.

Scarily, Guardiola thinks his 24-year-old forward should be doing even better.

Speaking after the player’s hat-trick against Watford, the manager noted: “The first half was not the best first half Raheem has done this season.”

It may have been the best second half though. While the first two goals were, in turn, fortunate then simple, the third was a peach. The quick-thinking cut inside and tidy finish secured only Sterling’s second Premier League hat-trick and his first since October 2015.

Giving burns

When asked after the Watford game about whether his finishing had improved, Sterling explained: “Every year I just want to improve, and this year’s no different.”

It was a concise response, if not a particularly insightful one.

On Twitter, however, the attacker was in a far more playful mood. Sergio Aguero congratulated him on getting the match ball, to which the Englishman responded with a cheeky taunt.

Such comments are now par for the course for this season’s more open, more publicly boisterous Sterling.

A few weeks ago, the attacker roasted French defender Aymeric Laporte for his ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ dance moves.

Before that, he was posting close-up shots of irate Chelsea fans trying to distract him during the League Cup final shootout. (It went top bins, in case you forgot.)

In recent months, he’s also prodded Kevin de Bruyne and Oleksandr Zinchenko for their facial likeness, teased Benjamin Mendy for being injured all the time and even made fun of himself for missing an open goal against Burnley last season.

Sterling is dishing out banter left, right and centre, and nobody is safe from it.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently praiseworthy about logging onto Twitter and using it to chat to your mates. But Sterling’s recent online form hints at a player becoming more and more comfortable putting his personality out there into the public domain.

In the past, certain people would have attacked him for doing so. Since calling out his critics, however, he seems invincible.

That can only be a good thing. With the likes of Sterling, Kyle Walker and, yes, Benjamin Mendy providing some of the best entertainment on football Twitter, we can look forward to Manchester City’s post-match chat as much as their passing triangles.

Long may Sterling’s good form continue — on the pitch and on the timeline.

By Benedict O’Neill


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