When Raheem Sterling finally spoke to Thomas Tuchel about his new role in the Chelsea, the German coach told the 27-year-old that he had some other ideas for his game. Tuchel sensed that Sterling had a tendency to look for the ball at his feet and told him to “get in behind”, “attack the box”. In other words, look ahead.
It is very much in keeping with the mood Sterling is in as he sits in front of the media for his official unveiling as a Chelsea player at Cobham on Thursday afternoon.
Two issues from his recent past inevitably arise.
One is the alleged racial abuse he suffered at Chelsea as a Manchester City player during a game in December 2018, which led to the supporter being banned for life from Stamford Bridge.
Another is his relationship with Pep Guardiola, and how he fell so dramatically out of favor at City.
Sterling addresses both strongly, but with the goal of leaving such topics behind and looking to the future.
This goes a long way to addressing the issue of abuse, again showing an impressive maturity and progressiveness that others could learn from.
When Sterling signed for Chelsea, one of the most talked about topics – particularly in the requisite social media debate – was how he was going to the club where he was involved in an incident which he admitted was a “turning point ” in his life.
The player, however, hardly thought about it.
“I saw a little bit of information about it yesterday,” he says. “Then I remembered for the first time. It was not at all what was playing in my head. I cannot allow an incident by individuals to change my perception of the club.”
The incidents, however, have led to a change in his outlook, which is very apparent when asked if he would now date a fan.
“I have no hatred or malice towards a person. This is something I could do here, now or tomorrow. That’s not the point.
“I think my main focus is to move away from the racial stuff and focus more on nurturing and nurturing the youth as I grow up and giving them a map of what the world holds ahead and showing them that they can manifest a lot of things if they just putting in the time and taking care of myself … it made me realize what my real purpose is outside of football.
“Of course, football is my main goal and talent, but the other thing that brings me the most joy is helping people. So, after that incident, I moved away from the racial side and focused more on helping and educating young people.”
It’s clear that he’s become a highly developed individual as his career is winding down as well. Sterling admits that returning to London after 22 years just “made sense” for both his career and his family.
A West London native known as a talent as a child, he laughs that it is “more than likely” that Chelsea approached him when he was young.
However, there is a hint that he still wouldn’t be there if things had gone differently at City. While Sterling describes his time at the club as “living his dream”, the past two seasons have been anything but challenging.
He is rather cryptic about his relationship with Guardiola as Sterling is suddenly out of the squad.
“It was a big surprise. It was a big surprise…a sudden turn of events. That’s what I had to deal with and that’s why I’m here.
“I, the manager and people in the club know exactly what the reasons were. I tried to play my football and overcome the situation, but it didn’t work, so I had to move on.
“I’ve been a regular starter since I was 17 and I wouldn’t have agreed to reach the peak of my career without playing regularly.
“My personality is to try to fight and change the script, but it didn’t work and that’s it.”
Some at City’s training ground believe there is growing tension and distance between coach and player. Guardiola can be undeniably intense, and some may be at it longer than others.
Sterling, however, just couldn’t accept not playing.
That is why he was open to Chelsea when moves were made “before the end of last season”.
“I got a phone call when I was in Jamaica to say it was heating up,” says Sterling. “Then I realized the seriousness of it.
“I felt my playing time [Man] The city was limited for various reasons and I could not afford to waste more time. When I look to the future, I never wanted to look back and see growth and then decline. So I felt I needed to stay at the same level and needed a new challenge.”
Chelsea didn’t need to sell him the club.
“With several other options I had, this one was more tailored to my personal goals. If you look at Chelsea over the last couple of years, I think four out of the five finals they’ve been in, they’re a team that’s competing and will only get better.
“So it made a lot of sense for me with the new ownership and the takeover.”
Tuchel, however, sold the role.
“He told me about my spontaneity, always threatening from behind, not always wanting it to go to the feet, going from behind. But the most important thing is how I attack the penalty box – and with the full-backs we have, he said that’s one thing he wants to see a lot more of, so that’s been a conversation.”
If it is true that Sterling and Guardiola do not currently have a warm relationship, the Catalan has undoubtedly developed him as a player by changing his outlook. Sterling says he knew his role in the City team “like the back of his hand”. However, this does not necessarily mean that things will be the same with Chelsea.
Sterling doesn’t see as many similarities between his new boss and his old one as others.
“These are two different systems, two different styles of play. We have a lot of possession here, City have a lot of possession, but this is completely different.
“They both want different things. I am adjusting very well here. It’s the honeymoon period, but it’s like when you’re really optimistic about something and dreaming about something – that’s where I am.”
And from there he looks only forward.