There are a selection of players who have always endured stick at any Premier League ground they rock up at.
While it’s not desirable, it’s understandable in some cases. During his time as a Liverpool player, Luis Suarez was a regular target, as he did little to earn favor among neutrals despite his obvious brilliance.
Joey Barton is another who is showered with invective due to his previous misdemeanors, while other former Premier League stars, think Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, almost encouraged boos with some brash behavior.
Reasons for Manchester City man Raheem Sterling being the subject of widespread ire are tougher to decipher, though. Against Liverpool, you’d expect the former Reds tyro to get some stick due to his controversial departure, while rival fans of his clubs from Manchester United and Everton may not have forgotten his previous allegiances.
But whenever Sterling picks up possession anywhere in the country, the boos ring out. And when he struggled in his debut term at the Etihad Stadium following a £49 million move from Anfield, plenty were giddy at the inconsistency in his performances and joyous at recalling the sizable amount City splashed on him.
It’s something that seemed to trouble Sterling. After a testing domestic campaign, he was poor at the UEFA European Championships — a petition was even set up to bring the player home — and has since been the target of some bizarre criticism in the press, including stories about shopping in Poundland, buying food in Greggs and driving a dirty car.
Yet despite the scrutiny, a tough first season and the peculiar obsession in him from certain sections of the press, Sterling has quietly excelled under Pep Guardiola.
The acquisition of players like Gabriel Jesus, Nolito and Leroy Sane put pressure on the England international, still only 22, to earn his berth in the XI under the new boss. It’s a challenge he’s relished and as was evident in City’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth on Monday, Sterling is playing his best football since his arrival at the club.
Although Guardiola’s influence hasn’t had a massive benefit on many City players, there’s little doubt he’s been a catalyst for Sterling’s recent improvement.
The most notable upgrade in the winger’s play has been his decision making. On the ball in dangerous positions, there’s been an added composure to Sterling’s choices. So often in 2016-17 he’s been content to take an extra second when one-on-one with a defender or a goalkeeper, much to his benefit.
The manner in which he squared up Adam Smith and beat him on the outside to set up Sergio Aguero’s goal on Monday was testament to that clear thinking; his goal against Celtic in the UEFA Champions League, when he sat down defender and goalkeeper in the penalty area before slotting home, was another.
There are tangible figures to underpin these developments too. In the Premier League this season, Sterling already has six goals and five assists, bettering his total of six and two respectively from last term.