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Raheem Sterling has admitted he could leave Manchester City if he does not become a regular starter again under Pep Guardiola.
The England forward has refused to rule out a move overseas should his fortunes not improve, as the uncertainty over his future at City grows.
Telegraph Sport revealed a fortnight ago that Sterling - who will have a year left on his deal next summer - had put contract talks on hold amid his struggles to win back his place with the Premier League champions.
Sterling has started just 16 of City’s past 33 matches in all competitions dating back to late February and he wants to see how the situation develops over the coming weeks and months before deciding his next move.
Asked if he could imagine playing elsewhere in pursuit of more game time, Sterling told the Financial Times Business of Sport US summit on Thursday: "If there was the option to go somewhere else for more game time I would be open to it. As I said football is the most important thing to me.
"Challenges that I have set myself from a young age and dreams as well. As an English player all I know is the Premier League and I’ve always thought, you know, maybe one day I’d love to play abroad. See how I would come up against that challenge."
If he does not play a pivotal role at City moving forward, Sterling - who left Liverpool for the Etihad Stadium in 2015 - is ready to consider his options both in and outside the Premier League.
Barcelona are among the clubs who are known to be interested in loaning Sterling in January, although City are thought to be opposed the 26-year-old leaving in the winter window, all the more so after their failure to sign a striker during the summer.
Real Madrid have also been linked with Sterling in the past, even if their priority is a move for the Paris Saint-Germain striker, Kylian Mbappe, who is in the final year of his contract at the Parc des Princes.
Sterling held talks with Guardiola in August, when the pair agreed to disagree on a number of matters. But, despite his obvious frustration and unhappiness at his predicament, Sterling said he was determined to try to force his way back into his manager’s plans amid his thirst to be at the centre of any push for more silverware - and his continued professionalism and maturity have been noted internally.
'Football is where I get my happiness from'
"I’m not a person that’s going to complain," said Sterling, who has won three Premier League titles with City. "I’ve not tried to make it a bigger deal than it actually is. I get on with my work. Do what I need to do. And I’m just raring to go. Playing football matches regularly. Scoring goals regularly.
"From a young child, football has been the most important thing in my life. My most happiest I should say. When I play football that is where I get my happiness from. And, of course, with family as well but football for me has a special place in my heart.
"With everything that comes with football, money, being able to do nice things … at the end of the day, if football for me is not at a certain standard I’m not really at my happiest. If I want my happiness at a certain level I need to be playing football. I need to be scoring goals and enjoying myself."
Despite being one of England’s stand-out performers during the country’s run to the Euro 2020 final in the summer and a key player for Gareth Southgate, Sterling lost his place in the City team during the final few months of last season and Jack Grealish’s £100 million arrival from Aston Villa in August has put another obstacle in his path.
Grealish has become Guardiola’s first choice for the left sided attacking position Sterling once called his own and, on those occasions the former Liverpool player has been used, it has predominantly been in a central striker role that is requiring a period of adaptation.
Ferran Torres has also been used in that position but the Spain forward is facing the prospect of a few weeks on the sidelines after sustaining a foot injury on international duty.
Asked about his ambitions for the future, Sterling said: "Keeping humble, keeping that hard working spirit, chasing the next goal. Making targets, trying to do better than I did last season. Trying to get better numbers than I did last season. Keeping that hunger. Keeping that in your stomach. That’s the only way you can get better from here."
Sterling remains an integral part of the England team, despite his City struggles, and believes their inexperience cost them in the Euros final defeat to Italy.
"There are so many reasons why you might not win," he said. "Maybe the lack of experience of being in those high pressured situations by a lot of the boys. I don’t want to say it in a way that comes across like we crumbled . It was probably just a different experience for a lot of us. It’s learning experiences. Reaching the semi finals of a World Cup, the final of a Euros.
"Every time we can try and build and improve and I do genuinely believe that every time we meet up we are improving and the consistency since the manager did come in, you can see small steps that we are taking. We just have to stay consistent."
Meanwhile, Sterling will soon launch his own foundation that will focus on helping "underprivileged kids who are in situations that I faced when I was younger". "From a single parent home, not a lot of financial stability, and just try to be a helping hand," he added.
"When I was younger it’s something that you always wished you’d had, someone or an organisation to listen and just be a helping hand. That’s what the foundation will do. If someone is studying for university and the family can’t financially support that we’ll be another avenue to help people try and chase their goals."
Where does Sterling's future lie?
Given that Sterling reacted with a degree of bewilderment and annoyance to reports of him being offered as a potential makeweight in a swap/cash deal with Tottenham for Harry Kane last summer, it is fair to say he has little interest in lowering his sights after years spent competing for the biggest trophies with City.
None of England’s biggest clubs sell their best players to each other these days, though, so unless Sterling was to run down his contract, which has over 18 months to run, the prospect of a transfer to Chelsea, for example, or a return to Liverpool is hard to envisage.
Given his acrimonious departure from Anfield, it is difficult to see a day when Sterling could ever play for Liverpool again. But he parted company with his long-standing representative and the source of much of that past angst, Aidy Ward, at the start of the year and the player himself may be of the view that you should never say never, even if the Merseyside club may feel otherwise.
Sterling was accused of being a mercenary by leaving for City in 2015 but he went on to win three Premier League titles with the club and his current reluctance to sign up to a lucrative new contract given his lack of playing time is not the behaviour of someone for whom money is the be all and end all.
If Sterling does leave City, a move abroad would - for the moment at least - seem the most likely option and he has already admitted the prospect of playing overseas appeals.
Barcelona have been linked with a loan move for Sterling in January but sources at City have dismissed the idea of the 26 year-old leaving in the winter window, especially on a temporary basis. The Catalan club’s bleak financial predicament suggests they may struggle to fund a transfer fee and Sterling’s wages, which currently stand at around £300,000 a week.
Real Madrid - who have courted Sterling previously - have financial problems of their own and, besides, seem to be prioritising a move for Kylian Mbappe, who could be a free agent at the end of the season if he does not sign a new contract with Paris St-Germain. What happens with Mbappe could potentially have a bearing on Sterling’s situation. Moves to the likes of Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus would be harder to imagine.
The left-field challenge
If Newcastle United’s new Saudi Arabia owners wanted to make a statement Premier League signing, they could do worse than make a big offer for Sterling. Good luck convincing Sterling to move to Tyneside and spend a couple of years spearheading a charge for Europa League football, though. The word non-starter springs to mind.
Staying at City
It is important to stress that Sterling is still firmly committed to trying to win his regular place back at City and, if that happens and more success follows, it would not be the biggest surprise if he opts to sign a new long-term contract with the Premier League champions.
Sterling knows there are few clubs that can offer him what City currently do - the chance to compete for the biggest trophies, quality football, a stable environment and big wages - and that finances at some of Europe’s top clubs abroad are tight given how the Covid-19 crisis has exposed other fault lines. But he wants regular football and to be a key figure in any team and will not tolerate his current predicament indefinitely.