Raheem Sterling is enjoying himself again, which is a terrifying prospect for the rest of the Premier League.After an arduous transfer wrangle that threatened to get seriously messy by the time it reached its conclusion in mid-July, the 20-year-old appears to have found his feet again.The £49m fee Manchester City parted with for his services is eye-watering no doubt, but the opening few weeks of the new Premier League season have highlighted just why Sterling was valued so astronomically.Liverpool fans fell guilty of casting the England international as the pantomime villain, particularly after he issued a statement to confirm he wasn’t the money grabbing youngster being depicted.But, while a plethora of ex-professionals slammed Sterling’s decision to pursue an Anfield exit, the more revisionist Reds supporter will understand the loss their side has suffered.Jack Lusby, per This Is Anfield and Bleacher Report, said back in July: “Liverpool have lost a supremely talented, high-potential young player, but now they must move on without him.“In 2013/14, he joined Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in spearheading the Reds’ unexpected title charge, particularly shining during the forward pair’s drop in form in March; in 2014/15 he excelled as [Brendan] Rodgers’ Jack-of-all-trades, in wide-attacking roles, reserved-defensive roles and in a stint as a centre-forward over the turn of the year.”The SASAS triumvirate that took Liverpool so close to the title two years ago was frightening but that verve and vigour evaporated quickly in a hugely underwhelming campaign last term.Sterling’s arrival at City has created a new attacking trio for Premier League neutrals to sink their teeth into. With David Silva and Sergio Aguero terrorising opposition defences, Sterling now has team-mates to rival the unprecedented levels set by Suarez and Sturridge. Add Kevin De Bruyne to that frontline and it’s an ominous prospect. 2 2 Raheem Sterling City’s valuation of Sterling is unfathomable but, at 20, it’s an investment. The £49m works out at roughly £5m every season for the next ten years – a decade in which the forward will hope to fulfil the world class potential he currently possesses. With City set to compete on a number of fronts over the coming years, Sterling will play an integral part in their bid to harbour silverware.In summer 2012, Manchester United paid Arsenal £22m for a then 29-year-old Robin van Persie. The Dutchman was at the peak of his powers at the time and was the catalyst as United romped to the title in the subsequent season.Van Persie’s injury record hampered the rest of his United career, but the inflated transfer fee the Red Devils paid for a player with no resale value was completely justified by the magnitude of his instant impact.Sterling, similarly, has already shown signs of what he can bring to a rejuvenated City side. Extreme pace is a rare commodity but ultimately it can be the most frightening character trait of an opposition player. Sterling creates fear amongst his opponents and, as we saw during Liverpool’s title tilt, he demands more attention. Silva and Aguero are already benefiting from his arrival simply because they have more space to operate within.Aguero, the league’s best striker, and Silva, the top flight’s leading creator, will only get better with Sterling’s presence. Defences will find it near impossible to simultaneously suppress all three, which should mean one thing – goals. The England man might not grab all the headlines, but just his presence has already allowed others to.City’s new blueprint, with Sterling’s introduction a crucial component, means they will probably win the title this season, injuries dependent. They have the best-assembled squad and the 20-year-old, a European Golden Boy award winner in 2014, is emblematic of their new refreshing identity.In a summer of exorbitant transfer fees the Manchester clubs raised more than a few eyebrows. In five to ten years time, however, it is City who will be reaping the rewards from their outlays. £49m is a drop in the ocean for the City owners and given the current transfer market and the way Sterling has already transformed the Premier League leaders’ dynamic, he might just be worth every penny.
June 21, 8pm: Croatia v SpainIn a fiercely-contested section where one slip could be hugely damaging to qualification hopes it’s tough to single out a game but this one looks tasty. While Czech Republic face Turkey, Croatia face Spain and the personnel makes for an interesting sub-plot. The heart of Croatia’s midfield play for Spain’s big two club sides Barcelona and Real Madrid and they will come up against friends with progress likely to be on the line for one side. The technical ability across both teams is second to none and a display of attacking football looks to be on the cards.Spain’s Koke. Nick Potts / EMPICS Sport Could Spain become the first side to win three consecutive European Championships? Or will the side who dominated world football just a few years ago suffer a repeat of the failures of Brazil 2014?Group D will go some way to answering lingering questions about Spain’s current state but the clear favourites in the section might encounter some difficulty against three teams who can all justify claims they might be dark horses in the tournament.Croatia boast some stellar names and gifted attackers, Czech Republic make the team the star and Turkey have been quietly putting together an impressive record over the last 18 months.Any of these sides could emerge from the group confident and dangerous after dealing with stern examinations from the start. Equally, a mistake or two will end hopes before they’ve even begun as rivals seize on any opportunity to take advantage. PA A golden era of Spanish football came crashing to an end in just five days during the summer of 2014 as the defending world and European champions were dumped out of the World Cup after a painful 5-1 mauling at the hands of the Netherlands and a 2-0 defeat to Chile.France 2016 doesn’t just offer the chance to regain some pride but also to make history. No country has won three consecutive European Championships and that achievement isn’t outwith La Roja’s grasp.The journey back to the top has been fairly kind post-Brazil, with Spain handed one of the more straightforward qualifying groups.However, friendlies in the last two years have brought them up against France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy with three losses and a draw maybe warning that expectation should be limited this time around.On paper, there’s a lot to be positive about. A calm experienced manager in Vicente Del Bosque can still draw upon players from the absolute peak of European football. The core of Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas have shown their class at the top level time and time again. Alvaro Morata has been a livewire addition and Koke has emerged as a figure who can lead the team in years to come. There’s also a fairytale in the making should 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz continue what has been an incredible season at the end of his career.Making history won’t be easy for Del Bosque and his players but if the mainstays hit the heights of old and the attack clicks into gear, La Roja could enjoy another golden moment.Pavel Vrba, Czech Republic coach John Walton / EMPICS SportQualifying as winners of a group that included Turkey, Netherlands and Iceland shows the remarkable progress in Czech football since failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.With a squad that doesn’t boast a genuine star name outside of Petr Cech, the credit for the team’s rise goes to manager Pavel Vrba, who took the job after winning the Czech Coach of the Year award for five successive seasons.Vrba may not be able to call on players from Europe’s elite but he has built on an experienced back line with the cream of the domestic game and established an attacking style that gets the best out of the resource he has.Of the home-based players, Viktoria Plzen and Sparta Prague are well represented and the latter made a run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League this season. One standout has been midfielder Borek Dockal who will be one to watch in France.Vrba favours speed, movement and attacking instincts and that was rewarded with 19 goals in the qualifiers, including three goals in the Netherlands and two in Turkey. However, it also exposes a defence that shipped 14 in 10 games in the group. Recent friendlies have brought wins against Russia and Malta but also a home defeat to South Korea.A kinder draw might have made the Czechs favourites to progress but in a tight group Vrda will have to ensure the organisation and cohesion that has allowed his lesser-known players to thrive will pay dividends when the pressure is on. Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic PACroatia manager Ante Cacic is confident ahead of his side’s tilt at the Euros, reportedly stating his belief that a place in the final is within reach. While not listed among the favourites, a quick look at Cacic’s squad show the reason he is happy with his lot.The strength in midfield really stands out. Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Inter’s Ivan Perisic are, individually, players that any nation would covet. Collectively, they are the core that Croatia’s hopes are wrapped around. It’s not just about the all-action trio in the middle of the park though. The back line are hugely experienced and can also benefit from the protection of defensively minded midfielder Milan Badelj of Fiorentina. His club team-mate Nikola Kalinic offers support for Mario Mandzukic in the front line and the players pushing for a starting place include Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic and Dinamo Zagreb’s exciting youngster Marco Pjaca. The note of caution comes from the fact that the side finished behind an ordinary Italy side in qualification (though the only defeat came before Cacic’s appointment) and weren’t in the toughest section to begin with.The run-in to the finals has been a confidence booster for the players, culminating in a 10-0 demolition of San Marino but with that match following victory against Moldova, a draw with Hungary and a home win over Israel, there’s still a sense that there’s been no real test for a while.That will change with an opening game against Turkey in a group where every point is precious. Keep the run going and Croatia could be in a groove that carries them deep into the tournament. Fail and Cacic may be pondering how to get the most out of his attacking ingredients before it’s too late.Burak Yilmaz, Turkey. Adam Davy / EMPICS SportTurkey will arrive in France as underdogs and are fully expected to battle it out with Czech Republic for third place in the group and hope that is enough to carry them through. Considering the fact that they finished four points behind the Czechs in qualifying, it would be understandable if only the optimists expected them to avoid the first flight home.After two games in qualification it looked like a place in the finals was wildly optimistic as well. Having lost heavily to Iceland and then been defeated by the Czechs at home, Turkey looked to be in trouble. And this in a group where the Netherlands were expected to be the major power.Turkish managerial giant Fatih Terim, in his third spell as boss of the national team, turned it around, taking advantage of Holland’s implosion to steer a course through and finishing with three game run that saw off the Dutch 3-0, the Czechs 2-0 in their own back yard and a 1-0 defeat of Iceland sealed automatic qualification. The team hasn’t looked back and now boasts a run of just one loss in 16 games.Terim relies on a group of players largely taken from the Turkish league but those who play abroad play a key role. Barcelona’s Arda Turan needs no introduction and may be fresh after a season where he’s missed the punishing schedule many other have endured. Striker Burak Yilmaz was the side’s top scorer in qualifying but the China-based forward has had injury problems and faces competition for his place. Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu has the opportunity to showcase his talents to the rest of Europe and his set piece delivery will be a powerful weapon.Man for man, the side doesn’t match up to the rest of the group but as a unit, Turkey have built a reputation as being hard to beat and capable of producing a result when needed. Tipped by many as a surprise package who could go far if things fall into place, the rest of Group D would dismiss them at their peril.Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu celebrates. Owen Humphreys / PA Wire/Press Association Images Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire/Press Association Images
Scotland international full-back O’Donnell said: “We will see how we have done at the end of the season as a club and hopefully it will be enough to encourage the manager to stay.“All we can ask for is Kilmarnock does everything they can, we know the fans support him massively and, as long as the club does everything, the manager’s decisions are his decisions.“He has been in the game long enough. If he wants to walk away he will walk away with his head held high. If he stays, brilliant, and it will hopefully be another good season for Kilmarnock.“Just now we are enjoying the time under him and as long as that lasts everyone will be over the moon. “He has achieved a lot in his career. Getting into Europe would be a great achievement for Kilmarnock. Hopefully it would play a part in his thoughts.“A lot of the decisions I think are family-based. I don’t think it will have a massive bearing on his decision.”O’Donnell believes Clarke’s legacy at the club is already assured.The former Partick Thistle and Luton Town defender said: “We were struggling at the bottom of the league and two seasons in a row he has got us in the top six.“It is enough of a legacy. He could walk away now and it would be an incredible two seasons.“If we could get into Europe it would be the icing on the cake.” Stephen O’Donnell wants Kilmarnock to do everything they can to persuade manager Steve Clarke to stay for another season.The Killie boss, who arrived in October 2017, was quoted in a newspaper interview this week saying he would make his mind up about his future in the summer and did not rule of out staying at Rugby Park.The Ayrshire club have secured a top-half finish under Clarke for the second successive season and sit in third place ahead of the visit of St Johnstone on Saturday.A victory will take Kilmarnock one point off last season’s best-ever Premiership total of 59 points with five post-split fixtures remaining, keeping them on course for European football next term.