Gary Neville: Can Raheem Sterling match Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo for goals?

Speaking on Monday Night Football, Gary Neville laid down a challenge to Raheem Sterling

Gary Neville has challenged Raheem Sterling to start matching Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo in the next few seasons.

The Englishman has played an important part in Manchester City’s title success, scoring 17 times in the Premier League, and has increasingly been utilised in a centre-forward position by Pep Guardiola towards the end of the campaign.

Neville, who worked with Sterling in the England set-up, highlighted statistics which show the 23-year-old’s goal return is comparable to both Henry and Ronaldo at a similar age.

Both of those players developed from wide players into world-class goalscorers and Guardiola believes the Englishman can do the same, saying: “If he is able to increase in front of goal, scoring goals, then he will become one of the best players in the world. He has everything. He is a fighter, so dynamic and is so good – but he has to improve that.”

And Neville explained on Monday Night Football that Sterling should now look to move to the next level…

“Raheem Sterling always puts himself out there,” said Neville. “He always gets in where it hurts, he always wants the ball again and he will always come for the next chance. But Pep Guardiola is absolutely right. He needs to improve his maturity, his finishing and his decision-making in the final third.

“It is the authority to take the chance and to have the right technique, not to lean back, not to snatch at it when it comes to it. He is getting into the positions and his technique is letting him down. His ability to compose himself and make the right decision is letting him down.

“The best goalscorers always look like they have time on the ball and Pep Guardiola has challenged him to become one of the best in the world. The two best players that I can think of in the Premier League in the past 20 years who have gone from dynamic wide players to prolific goalscorers are Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry.

“When I think of Thierry Henry as a 17-year-old at Monaco, I think of how raw he was. How he did not know when to make the right run or the right pass. It was the same with Cristiano Ronaldo. People forget the early years of these players.

“Where is Raheem Sterling going to go now? That’s the challenge that Pep Guardiola is laying down because you can see where the other lads went.

“If you think about those players and then what they went on to become, where everything was so controlled. The authority and technique in the final third was never in doubt. That was a result of incredible hard work and progression year on year.”

Sterling has scored 17 Premier League goals this season at the age of 23. That is exactly the same number of goals that Henry and Ronaldo scored in the Premier League when they were 22 so he is currently only one year behind them.

However, by the time that Henry was 26 he was scoring 30 goals in a Premier League season. Ronaldo scored 40 goals in La Liga at the age of 26. So how did they do it?

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“I cannot speak too much for Thierry but I can see obviously working with him for the last few years on Sky, the professionalism, the articulate nature of how he thought about his work, and his intelligence,” added Neville.

“I can speak first-hand about Ronaldo and the hours of repetition in practising to kick a ball. Ronaldo, when he first came to United, was not a free-kick taker. He was not a corner taker. The accuracy of his kicking was not very good.

“Raheem Sterling is not a very good kicker of a ball. Could he take a corner? It is a simple thing. Could he put a corner onto the six-yard box whipped in every single time? The answer is no. Ronaldo couldn’t do it at the age of 18 or 19 either. It was hours of practice day after day.

“Raheem has got Kevin De Bruyne there. Hit 30 or 40 balls (with him) day after day and all of a sudden the repetition is such that you come into a situation whereby you then start to have composure and because you have done it so many times you start to get better.

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“If Cristiano had a one-on-one in training in his early years, he tried to dink it, he tried to nutmeg him or he tried to go round him. Then he started being serious about his work. Putting the ball past the goalkeeper properly every single time.

“Raheem does train properly because I have worked with him but he has to be that serious. Don’t try to dink the ball if it is not on, don’t try a nutmeg or have a jolly up. Just be serious about everything you do.

“Then, after training, work on that striking of the ball so that he can become someone who has complete convince that he can do it under pressure in big moments at Wembley against Spurs when he has three one-on-ones, in the derby against Manchester United when he has two one-on-ones in the first half.

“When Thierry Henry or Ronaldo went through on goal you think goal. When Raheem Sterling goes through on goal at the moment you are not sure. He has a jump to make and that is purely down to the confidence you get from doing it every single day.

“Raheem Sterling is tenacious, he’s hard working, he’s a tough player and he’s quick. There is development there. Can he get to the Henry and Ronaldo level? That’s debatable because they are two of the greatest players but that is the challenge.

“Pep Guardiola has said that he is looking for him to become one of the best players in the world. To get to that world’s best level he has to change something that he is doing now.”