Neil Humphreys: Raheem one step away from being Sterling
Man City winger has improved but his misses stop him from being world-class
Raheem Sterling must believe every match report is the work of a vindictive school-teacher.
Whatever the result, the Manchester City winger generally gets the same evaluation.
Could do better.
He shines under the shaven-headed Svengali in the dugout, underling Pep Guardiola's remarkable ability to polish rough gems.
Could do better.
He loses the selfish streak typical of precocious youth in favour of a collective work ethic. He makes more runs, creates more assists and scores more goals than ever before. He is, in short, a far superior footballer to the one who left Liverpool.
Could do better.
He still doesn't score enough goals. Taken at face value, the criticism seems mean-spirited. Sterling is only 23. There's still considerable room for improvement in his career.
And yet, public dissatisfaction, or scepticism at least, has followed Sterling since his move to Manchester.
This season, his vital stats have surged in the right direction. He's scored 22 goals in all competitions, which is twice as many as any other campaign.
With 17 goals in the English Premier League, Sterling has out-scored everyone else at City apart from Sergio Aguero.
He netted against Tottenham in the 3-1 win at Wembley yesterday (Singapore time), picked up an assist and won a penalty that might have been incorrectly awarded, but Sterling's wonderful acceleration made it possible nonetheless.
And still, the emphasis is on what might have been, the misses, the mistakes, the wayward striking and the penalty-box dithering.
Rather than celebrate Sterling for what he is, a multi-tasking, goal-scoring forward, there's an obsession with what he ought to be.
There are perhaps a couple of reasons for the exhausting fixation with Sterling's alleged failings. First, he's the definitive wide man, fast but flaky, another graduate from the Theo Walcott school of mercurial wingers.
From Lee Sharpe to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the EPL has a long line of exciting, but exasperating wing wizards who can flatter to deceive. It's the nature of the dribbling beast.
But with Sterling, it feels like something more, particularly in some of the vitriolic coverage he's suffered in England.
Every multi-millionaire endured a nightmarish tournament at Euro 2016, but Sterling was constantly targeted.
He always seems to be fighting more battles than his peers in his on-going bid for universal acceptance. Having said that, some of the valid criticism comes from a good place.
Even Guardiola admitted that Sterling has everything required to become a global giant - he just needs to score more goals.
Sterling has 22 so far. A world-class talent might conceivably double that tally with the same level of service.
He cultivated three outstanding opportunities in the Manchester Derby the previous weekend, slipping into spaces that had previously eluded him.
Under Guardiola's tutelage, Sterling spots openings quickly. He moves gracefully. He collects possession. He thinks. He misses.
David Silva found him twice against United. One shot went over, the other went wide. In stoppage time, he struck a post.
They were snatched chances, instinctive reactions, with Sterling not taking the time to paint clearer mental images. So he paused for thought against Spurs. And he still missed twice.
One spurned opportunity, in particular, summed up his curious case. Kevin de Bruyne took a ball down from the heavens and flicked it into Sterling's path in one sumptuous, jaw-dropping move. It was the touch of a ballerina. Sterling reciprocated with the touch of a bulldozer. He shot straight at the goalkeeper.
But that wasn't really the point. In those one-on-one situations, how many would bet the mortgage on Sterling?
Aguero scores in an identical setting. So does Harry Kane, Mo Salah and even Eden Hazard, a player with a similar skillset to Sterling.
Any lingering frustration is borne out of admiration. Sterling has everything required to excel in the modern game, one of the sharpest counter-attackers in a profession currently devoted to counter-attacking.
He'll win the title and deservedly so, but a successful World Cup - and subsequent Champions League campaigns - depend in large part on him converting more chances.
The teenage hothead has long gone. But only a cool head in front of goal will allow Sterling to reach the stratospheric heights that his talent deserves.
CITY SEAL TITLE
West Bromwich Albion defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford this morning (S’pore time) to hand the EPL title to Manchester City. Jay Rodriguez scored the winner from a 73rd-minute corner.