Sterling fulfilling his talent, Mount debunking and more mails…

Date published: Saturday 16th October 2021 10:39 - Will Ford

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City shows his disappointment against Southampton

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Has Sterling fulfilled his talent?
Continuing on from Lee’s mail regarding Raheem Sterling. When he was breaking through at Liverpool, what always struck me about him, and what made him stand out, was that he made good decisions. Sure he dribbled fast and beat players, but there was always a moment when Sterling took a breath to check where everyone was, and played a clever pass to the best of his ability.

This didn’t always work out, and seemed to actively hurt his shooting, but it was something that many (most?) young, fast, dribblers just didn’t have. Jordon Ibe, for all the memeablility, was legitimately a faster, better dribbler and shooter than Raheem, but he didn’t have that connection with the team around him.

We all imagine that as Sterling aged, that natural cleverness would take him up multiple levels. And it has. I don’t need to pretend that Liverpool got the better of that deal. Sterling has been a massive success for City, and Liverpool would have been a better side all around keeping him.

But… there’s still this sense that he could have been more. Ridiculous, maybe, because he’s one of England and the world’s best players in that position. He’s fulfilled more of his talent than the Joe Coles, Walcotts, or Welbecks, but admit it, there’s this sneaking feeling that he could have been more.

Frankly, I think he’s too good for Newcastle right now. Too good to spend his prime trying to qualify for the Europa League. And is potentially just a lucky touch from returning to top form. Maybe a return to Merseyside? Nah. Too much bad blood there. But I still wish he’d never left Liverpool.
Andrew M, London

READ MORE: Five team of the season-ers yet to get going in 2021-22


Sterling tap-ins
Lee’s email about Raheem Sterling reminded me a bit of the weird complaints about Bruno Fernandes last season: “if you take away his goals and assists what does he contribute?”.

Lee freely admits Sterling scores and assists quite a bit, but also says he has poor decision-making and an inability to finish anything other than a back post tap-in.

I’m going to say something which may blow Lee’s mind – Sterling can only score those back post tap-ins, by making the right decision to be in the right place, at the right time. Likewise, he can only rack up those assists by making the right decisions, at the right time.

As for having not improved since he joined City? According to transfermarkt at Liverpool Sterling contributed 48 goals or assists in his 9,267 minutes on the pitch. That’s 1 g/a every 193 minutes. In contrast, at City Sterling has contributed 203 goals or assists in his 22,424 minutes on the pitch. That’s 1 g/a every 110 minutes. The guy has clearly improved as a player since he moved as a 20 year old.

I don’t think there are too many teams in the world who would turn up their noses at having a left winger who was providing you with goals/assists at a ratio of 0.82 per 90 minutes played.

Sterling ‘world class’?
Long time listener, first time caller.

I’m sure this has been brought up plenty of times before, but what definition do we actually give to someone being ‘world class’?  I’ve been reading through mails about Sterling not being ‘world class’ but no one really says what that level looks like.  I get that it’s an arbitrary level and all based on an individual’s opinion but it would be good to know if we’re all comparing apples with apples when we say it.

I think, saying someone is at a certain class means that they are capable of performing well and not looking out of place consistently at that level.  So Premier League class would stretch to anyone who has consistently been at home in Premier League games e.g. Jordan Ayew is Premier League class, he’s played 30+ league games in each of the last 2 seasons in a side that’s finished 14th.  I can see that other people might say that ‘Premier League’ class has someone in the top 2/3 in their position at that level, but if you liken it to the class system, you have millions of people who are ‘working class’, ‘middle class’ and ‘upper class’, not just a few.

Would ‘world class’ be people who are capable of performing well and not looking out of place consistently at an international level or at a World Cup?  It’s weird as there’s not a linear increase in quality from Premier League to Champions League to Continental International to World International, plenty of players have looked good in a World Cup but not been up to PL or CL standard.

Even though I wouldn’t pick Sterling to start in a first choice 11 for City, Liverpool, Chelsea, PSG or Bayern, I’d still say he’s world class as he’s performed on that world stage on several occasions.
Pete (emboldened by a big lunchtime Gyros), Swansea

Makelele and Crespo
Guillaume’s mailbox submission this morning is full of facts of how wonderful Makalele and Crespo were at the time that Chelsea purchased them, none of which were ever in dispute.

I asked last time whether Makalele and Crespo had offers from bigger clubs than Chelsea with more immediate chance of winning trophies than Chelsea. Guillaume did not answer this question, so we can assume he is admitting that the answer is “no, they did not, Chelsea was their best option, which is why they ended up at Chelsea”. Sorry to Mediawatch Guillaume but if Makalele was not unwanted by Real Madrid, he wouldn’t have been sold. If Inter did not want to sell Crespo, he wouldn’t have been sold. Both were sold. If they had potentially better offers at other clubs, they could have pulled a Darren Bent and insisted on it. They didn’t. Chelsea were their best options.

To repeat, I absolutely did not say that they were not excellent players. I said they were not marquee signings (ie. they were not the equivalent of signing Haaland and Mbappe). The only reason this topic of conversation came up was in relation to the Newcastle situation. Guillaume is either being willfully obtuse about this, or is using this as an opportunity to tangentially write about how wonderful Makalele and Crespo were (fair enough).

Finally, as of June 2003, France’s international team was most known for having crashed out of the 2002 World Cup in 4th place, having lost to Denmark and Senegal, FIFA rank #2 or not. Makalele started only 1 of 3 games, the 2-0 loss to Denmark. Claiming that “you” (lol) were “constantly scoring 4 or 5 goals as well” is both an exaggeration and placing quite a lot of emphasis on victories over the likes of Malta, Slovenia and New Zealand.
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland

Don’t really have any skin in the game in this evolving back and forth between Oliver and Guillaume, but Guillaume’s contention that Barcelona ‘didn’t really start spending’ till 2004 doesn’t seem to tally with the fact that they bought Ronaldinho that summer for 30 million and Queresma for about 17. Total spending was 50 million, when that was a big amount. They only got about 3 back from other transfers.

By contrast, Real, who he says were spending big at the time, only spent 35 on Beckham, and clawed back 16 of that with Makelele.So the dreaded net spend comparison would be about 47 million to 19 million.  The figures for the following summer were about 60 million each. It seems Guillaume is massaging the truth somewhat here.
Pablo, MUFC, Dublin.

Missing Mount
I think Dave must be having a laugh because Mount has indeed been missed by Chelsea fans and the team when absent. In truth, Chelsea’s rather laboured play this season coincides with Mount’s absence. This idea that he only presses and runs around like a slightly more talented Lingard is quite simply farcical. Lingard has improved over time but isn’t a patch of grass on Mount’s finely manicured meadow. Chelsea averages 55% possession under Tuchel’s regime. Mount has shone in games against the likes of Citeh and Madrid as well as teams that voluntarily give up possession at the bottom of the table. He is a decisive, incisive passer that regularly plays killer passes. His work with the ball is also stellar. He excels with and without the ball. This is a requirement of modern football. Don’t believe me? Ask Klopp, Tuchel, Pep or Nagelsmann.

As a Chelsea fan, I too was somewhat bemused by Lampard’s seeming love -in with Mount but I have been won over. This young player has been Chelsea’s player of the season in a team with a galaxy of stars. Surely that stands for something. And to compare Saka and Sancho with him is truly laughable. Saka is probably the best player at Arsenal but is inconsistent and regularly goes missing. He is very overrated. Saka is bland slice of cake amongst a mouldy entree. Nothing special, but stands out amongst the mediocrity currently infesting the Arsenal squad. The choo choo on the Sancho hype train is slowly losing its smoke but I cannot understand the existence of the train in the first place. He has done nothing for England nor United and any murmur over him being dropped by Ole would be more a reflection of his price tag rather than his performances. Grealish, whist admitted really talented, has pulled up no trees at Citeh. For England, see above.

Mason Mount is tactically astute. His touch is exemplary and can play in an array of attacking positions. He works well between the lines when he has space but also in tight spaces. I really do noy understand the skepticism. But hey, there are those that question Messi’s cajonas because he ‘was scared’ of the premier league to go play in Paris so go figure. I guess the likes of Everton, Southampton and Norwich had the GOAT trembling. Sigh. Opinions, facts and all that…
Ricky G (Bring on Brentford. Mount for a brace…)



The worst thing in football…
Change seems to happen faster these days and football isn’t immune.

We have seen Financial Fair Play be introduced, tested and somewhat put aside, the introduction of VAR, female officials (hooray), super agents, FIFA getting somewhat of a comeuppance via the FBI and IRS, the rise of super agents who dictate where a player might end up, booing players for doing something to pushback against racism (which is still rife), the introduction and dropping of a super league and teams being acquired by iffy foreign entities or entities like FIFA and UEFA who were primarily created to administer and coordinate the game competing with leagues and clubs for sponsors and broadcasting funds?

Many of these are considered to be the worst thing to happen to football.

Of course most of these things are to do with power and money – except the female officials which was clearly going to get that goat of those misogynistic ex-players and pundits – who think only men can play, administer or officiate football. I winder whether a woman, Amanda Stavely, was involved in the Newcastle takeover, will make it worse for those old time purists?

But the question is what do we think is the worst thing to happen to football recently, given all those changes?

I still fall into the FIFA/UEFA bucket ( with FIFA clearly being the worst) as I feel they should be spending more time concentrating on all those other problems in the game, rather than how they can make more money to line their pockets. They have no concern for player welfare – they don’t pay them or coach them or bring them through academies. They simply need them supplied to participate in their competitions. Clubs are a nuisance that get in the way of what they want to achieve. Sure the clubs take all the risks, make all the investments in players, facilities, coaching, etc, while they sit back and reap the rewards. How dare those clubs want more. Agents? Well, that’s a player/club issue so let’s leave it alone.

FIFA and UEFA were given a free ride by most governments because coordinating something like football that spans 211 and 55 countries respectively is difficult. But as they continue to make decisions that override laws in said countries, we are now seeing judgements that impact their decisions. US prosecutors convicting them of using the dollar and banks illegally, the Bosman ruling that corrected working rights that were contravened by UEFA, the Super League pointing out the lack of separation to administer versus compete with said clubs for broadcast and sponsor funds. Now FIFA trying to push the WC to every 2 years. They can couch it anyway they want but in the end it’s about money. I hope it gets challenged legally as they will lose.

There is so much hypocrisy these days perhaps the only way to cut through it is via the courts. Football has for too long been wrapped inside it’s own bubble.
Paul McDevitt


Who’d do better?
This seems be the increasingly commonplace response to various unstable positions in football at the moment.

Harry Kane is in diabolical form for club and country but has literally no one who could realistically displace him. He’s not a player who can coast by and casually achieve. If he’s missing his sharpness he’s just an absolute passenger. Since the utter failure of his and his idiot brothers scheme to force a move, he’s moved like an arthritic elephant stuck in treacle on a wet, cold day of gloom. With no obvious sign of immediate improvement.

I personally believe he’d find his missing motivation very quickly if he found himself on the subs bench. But he won’t be there any time soon. Dropping him now is the easy answer for forum ‘experts’ like me, just as it was in the group stages of the Euros. But honestly, who’d really do better now, as then?

Further oop North, absolutely no one is arguing that Ole is doing a stupendously good job at United. Equally, it’s blatantly obvious he isn’t doing an appallingly bad one. Not a transformative figure for good like Klopp at Dortmund or Liverpool. Nor a destructive figure of malevolence like Jose at United or Spurs. More an inoffensive beacon of Norwegian harmlessness with bonus points for not being the aforementioned Jose.

What’s obvious to everyone is that with the weight of history United brings, the global presence, the stars on display and the really quite large level of investment – they should be doing a bit/lot better.
Ole will not improve from here. This is as good as he gets.

So he’s not achieving enough and nor will he – therefore firing him seems pretty straightforward. What’s less so is who would replace him? All the best candidates are very well ensconced in their clubs. The obvious club-jumping mercenaries have their own well-known flaws (see Conte A.) And anyone else is an almighty punt. To fire Ole without having a very good replacement waiting ready would be very stupid indeed  ( see Levy D.)

So in a job Ole remains, because there’s no obvious sign who’d do better.

At the other end of the table we see Newcastle. Takeover, huge investment, brave new dawn, appalling human rights abuses, bold fresh start.

Steve Bruce has not done a good job at Newcastle. Whether anyone else would have done *dramatically* better is something else. The toxic Mike Ashley had checked out, there was no money and the club could scarcely have been more dispirited. Rafa did as good a job as anyone could there. But it wasn’t amazing.

Now we have the fresh start and clearly a new manager is required to front up the project. Equally clearly that cannot be Bruce. But the candidates to replace him are scarcely inspiring. Gerard is not leaving Rangers for this. Nor Brendan leaving Leicester. He’s holding out for the City job apparently, which shows he still has the ego and self-knowledge of David Brent firmly intact.

Which apparently leaves us with…..Frank? Um, why? His achievements are considerably less than even Bruce’s and the fact that Chelsea were utterly transformed by firing him is scarcely a massive vote to give him £200 million to play with. And yet he appears to be a front-runner of sorts, because no one that Newcastle would want , would want Newcastle.

In five years time a great many people will want that role, much like the City job. But next week someone along the line of Frank is as good as it gets. Because who’d do better?

And this week Steve Bruce inexplicably seems to be in charge for one more game , mainly because no one has made up their mind who makes the decisions yet. So let him have his 1000th game and keep charge until someone with actual power rolls up.

The bar seems set unusually low right now all over the place.
James, Liverpool 


Oh, Claudio…
“In Ranieri’s first eight games, the Hornets face five of the Big Six, with trips to Leicester and Everton chucked in too.”

were it not for bruce – has a manager ever been the favourite for the sack before they’ve even taken charge of a match?


Ritchie Humphreys
I seem to remember in the mid/late 90’s, sitting down and watching a Premier League match and Sheffield Wednesday were playing… whoever they were playing. They gave a debut to a kid called Ritchie Humphreys and played him up front, in a two or a three (whatever).

This kid Humphreys scored a worldie.

Next match came about and Humphreys scored a worldie.

The game after that, low and behold Ritchie Humphreys scores AGAIN (if my memory serves me correctly, I believe it was a worldie), he might have even bagged a brace of worldies, and by now Sheffield Wednesday are top of the Premier League and people are already talking about Ritchie Humphreys playing with Alan Shearer up front for England.

And that was all the Premier League heard about Ritchie Humphreys. We didn’t really hear a peep from him again. A quick “Wikoogle” shows that he played the remainder of that season, before falling out of favour and then spending a long and distinguished career in the lower leagues, largely for Hartlepool.
Dale May, Swindon Wengerite


Non-scoring strikers
Replying to Calum, Scotland’s email… firstly you are correct, Coventry had a very interesting team under Gordon Strachan. Solid foundations with some flair players like Hadji to support. Secondly you are incorrect on Cedric Roussel. He might not have been a prolific scorer but he was a crucial part of the side in the then fashionable ‘big man / little man’ strike partnerships, playing more of a tactical striking role. Whilst not being a 20 goal a season striker, he did a great job alongside Robbie Keane winning flick ons and holding up the ball. The Emile Heskey to Michael Owen role if you will. Peter Crouch to Defoe.

That leads me to an excellent idea for your next topical top ten… the 10 best non-scoring strikers in the premier league!

You’re welcome
Tom, Coventry

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