Man City let Raheem Sterling quit for Chelsea transfer even though only Lionel Messi has more goal contributions for Pep

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RAHEEM STERLING was pictured on a zipwire while visiting his birthplace Jamaica this week.

And his gradual slide downwards from the very top reflects how the striker’s time at Manchester City has gone over the last 16 months.

The most goal contributions for Pep Guardiola teams

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The most goal contributions for Pep Guardiola teams

Accepting Chelsea’s offer — which could hit £55million — for the England international is a sound business move from the Etihad hierarchy.

Factor in Sterling’s £300,000-a-week wages as well and the difference between selling him now and letting him walk away for nothing next summer is about £70m!

It would have gone against club policy to allow such a valuable asset to drift into the final 12 months of his contract.

But even so, allowing Sterling to join a top-four rival represents something of a gamble by Pep Guardiola.

As recently as February, the City boss admitted how pivotal the 27-year-old has been to the huge success they have had since he took charge in summer 2016.

He said back then: “There are highs and lows but nobody doubts how important he is and he is showing that.

“If we count the amount of games he has played since we are together, it is a lot. He’s been a key player.”

The stats back that up. Since Guardiola took charge six years ago, Sterling has scored 120 goals, with 66 assists.

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Only one player coached by Pep during his 15 years as a manager has better numbers — Lionel Messi.

As Sterling packs his bags, Julian Alvarez boards a plane from Buenos Aires today ready for a new life in Manchester. The Argentina forward, 22, arrives with a big reputation following his time at River Plate.

Yet filling the boots of Sterling will be a tall order for the £14m ace. The former Liverpool man leaves the Etihad with his place in City folklore secured.

After arriving in 2015 — a year before Guardiola — Sterling made a total of 337 appearances, scoring 131 goals and contributing 94 assists.

That put him just one short of moving into the top ten of the club’s all-time goalscoring list.

He won four of the last five Prem titles and also picked up six domestic cups and two Community Shields.

The only trophy which eluded Sterling at City was the Champions League — and it was Chelsea who denied him that in the 2021 final.

By letting Sterling and fellow striker Gabriel Jesus go, albeit for a combined fee of nearly £100m, City are waving goodbye to a lot of Prem experience.

But since Sterling was dropped in the aftermath of a Manchester derby defeat at the Etihad in March last year, it looked like this would be the end game.

Having been an automatic starter for so long, he suddenly found himself left out for the biggest matches.

His next 30 appearances — many of them from the bench — produced just two goals, even though there was a starring role for England at Euro 2020 in the middle of it.

During that time, Sterling stated he wanted to be sure he would be playing regularly before he committed to a new deal at the Etihad.

Clearly he was not — although the forward had another purple patch either side of Christmas when he looked much more like his old self.

At the end of April, he insisted all talks could wait until the end of the season.

That proved to be a shrewd move, as Sterling was back on the bench for both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

It was the same story for the last two league matches — including the crucial final-day win over Aston Villa.

He came off the bench then to spark City’s comeback. However, City had already secured the signings of Erling Haaland and Alvarez — so Sterling could see the writing on the wall.

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