Raheem Sterling to Barcelona or Arsenal makes sense; these are not steps down

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Raheem Sterling, who's attracted Arsenal interest Credit: PA Images
Raheem Sterling, who's attracted Arsenal interest Credit: PA Images

The arrival of Erling Haaland at Manchester City will have knock-on effects, and for Raheem Sterling that may mean making a very big decision.

So the iceman cometh. Ivan Drago is set to enter the Manchester City building, adding to the formation of a Premier League summer transfer conga line that could dance all the way to Barcelona over the next couple of months. Erling Haaland’s arrival at Manchester City was expected to fill that left by Gabriel Jesus, who has already effectively confirmed that he wishes to leave the club, and who is still expected to move to Arsenal in the close season.

But later reports suggest that Arsenal are now looking very closely at the possibility of signing Raheem Sterling. It’s not entirely clear whether this means instead of Gabriel Jesus or as well as him (there are conflicting reports), but the appeal of the move to Sterling would seem obvious. The argument can be made that it would be a ‘step down’ for Sterling to leave Manchester City, but if Arsenal can hold onto fourth place in the Premier League, he would have the attraction of Champions League football, playing in front of crowds of 60,000, moving back to London (where he grew up from the age of five), and teaming up again with Mikel Arteta, with whom he worked at Manchester City.

It has been reported that Sterling may be set to run down his contract with Manchester City, which still has a year left to run should he not secure a departure during the summer. This state of affairs will have a pretty drastic effect on Sterling’s value in the transfer market, so it may not even have to be an either/or situation with regard to Gabriel Jesus, but this wouldn’t alter the fact that wages for bringing in these two players would also likely be very expensive. Arsenal have lost Pierre-Emerick Abuameyang from their wage bill and will be losing Alexandre Lacazette come the end of the season too, but it seems unlikely that Gabriel and Sterling would come cheaper than these two.

And in the case of Raheem Sterling, there may well be interest from elsewhere. Sterling was widely reported to be very interested in a loan move to Barcelona in January, and it has since been confirmed that Barca’s interest in him has not been diminished. Barcelona will also be offering Champions League football next season, and the truth is that to have the opportunity to play home matches at Camp Nou is for any player an opportunity to be a part of one of the central pillars of the world game. A bidding war over his contractual terms would only likely push up the cost to whoever eventually acquires his services.

Further on down the line, Eddie Nketiah watches and waits. Nketiah has been the sticking plaster applied after Aubmeyang was offloaded to Barcelona and not replaced, and has found his popularity increasing as the second half of the season has progressed, with two goals at Chelsea at the start of April and two goals at the end of the month to beat Leeds in their crucial recent match a timely reminder of his potential.

 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

He’s 22 years old and homegrown, his contract is set to expire at the end of this season, and West Ham United are lurking in the shadows with a net on the end of a long stick, although they’re also understood to be interested in prising Ollie Watkins from Aston Villa. Arteta wishes to keep Nketiah, but it would be understandable were he a little put out at going into contract negotiations with Arsenal while the club were actively pursuing players that would likely be parachuted into the first team ahead of him. West Ham would, in all likelihood, offer him a better chance of regular first-team football.

Nkeitiah may well be wondering whether a big performance in the upcoming north London derby might strengthen his case. There would be a certain irony to the player who scored the goal to secure a return to Champions League football for Arsenal never playing in the competition that he qualified them for because he was supplanted by players whose decisions to move there might have been directly influenced by his goal. And as if to tie all this in a nice, neat bundle, Nketiah might be considered too similar a player to Gabriel to expect much of a look-in should that transfer be confirmed. Raheem Sterling, of course, can play as a winger too.

At 27 years old, this might be Raheem Sterling’s last big contract, so it’s a decision that he needs to get right. Both Arsenal and Barcelona could have an understandable appeal. Going to Arsenal would bring a player who grew up in the shadow of Wembley back to his home city. He’s versatile, and the idea of ‘taking a step down’ is ridiculous, elitist hyperbole which only serves to invalidate every football club that isn’t already offensively wealthy and every footballer who plays for them.

But Barcelona has a sentimental appeal to the football-obsessed child in all of us. Camp Nou may be crumbling but it’s due a refit, and even spending a year away may be worthwhile if it leads to turning out at home for them once the work is complete. There may well be a realisation amongst players of Sterling’s age that Barcelona have likely survived the worst of their financial crisis and that they are setting about trying to get back to the summit of European football. If you don’t take the opportunity when it comes around, it might not come around again, and as Tammy Abraham has proved this season with Roma, it’s perfectly possible to keep growing your career with a move abroad.

The early skirmishes in the transfer market hint at a busy summer ahead, and the knock-on effects of the transfer of Haaland to Manchester City so early – before the previous season has even finished – may well have ramifications down through the Premier League and possibly beyond. But for Raheem Sterling, this feels very much like a junction in his career. He’s fortunate to have potential options that don’t require much of a ‘step down’ from Manchester City. If he signs with Gabriel Jesus at Arsenal, their attacking options will be significantly improved. Playing for Barcelona might be a dream job for any professional footballer. One of the luxuries of having such talent is that it affords you this sort of choice.

The article Raheem Sterling to Barcelona or Arsenal makes sense; these are not steps down appeared first on Football365.com.

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