Opinion: Raheem Sterling is the undisputed Player of the Year

FC Schalke 04 v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Sterling
GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 20: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after he scores his team's 3rd goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between FC Schalke 04 and Manchester City at Veltins-Arena on February 20, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

It’s that time of the year when the Premier League’s player are all asked to vote for their Player of the Year. If they’ve got any sense, they’ll all be voting for Raheem Sterling.

Usually, at this time of the year, there are two leading candidates for the honour. Last year, for example, Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne competed for the award. This year, there are several worthy of them. On performances alone, Sterling is worthy of recognition.

With 21 goals to his name, Sterling is Manchester City’s second highest goalscorer this season behind Sergio Aguero. The Argentine is eight goals ahead of Sterling at this point in time.

Factor in the 12 assists Sterling has registered though, and that takes him to 33 goal contributions this season. That’s only four less than Aguero has managed. Limit the goal contributions to the Premier League, and Sterling had had an even more impressive campaign.

Crystal Palace v Manchester City - Premier League
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

With 17 goals, the most he has ever scored in a single campaign, and 11 assists, he sits joint second for goal contributions this season. Mohamed Salah currently leads those charts with 30. Sterling, though, has a better minutes per goal ratio than the Egyptian. He also beats the likes of Sadio Mane, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard in that regard.

Similarly, his 73% shots on target percentage is only one percent shy of being the best in the league among the leading goalscorers this season.

It’s not just the numbers that have been impressive about Sterling, though. His performances have been brilliant all season. It’s hard to look back across this campaign and find Sterling having a bad afternoon. He’s been consistently good and arguably the key man for Manchester City throughout the campaign.

When City have needed a player to step up and produce something, it’s usually been Sterling who has done so. The fact he’s scored six match-winning goals, the same as Aguero this season, is further proof of that point. That’s the joint third best number in the league this season, the same as Harry Kane.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal tackles Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

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Sterling has hit world-class levels this season. His improvement under Pep Guardiola’s guidance has been nothing short of exceptional. The numbers he has, plus the development he’s showing, make him a more than worthy candidate to be the player of the year. If the award was solely judged on performances alone, he’s up there as a leading candidate.

What puts Sterling ahead of the competition, though, is the work he has done off the pitch. Yes, that’s regarding the racism debate currently engulfing the English game.

It was the abuse that Sterling faced at Chelsea that begun the debates this year and it was his response to it that has changed the face of the racism debate.

Sterling has been nothing short of a consummate professional, standing up and confronting racism head-on. He is now the poster boy and leader for a movement to eradicate it from the game once and for all and deserves immense credit for putting himself forward as both.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City attends a Manchester City press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final match against Tottenham Hotspur. At Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on April 08, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 08: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

He has laughed, pointed out the disgusting nature of racism, and then confronted those in the game who aren’t addressing the issue or pretending there isn’t one. The bravery and maturity in a situation most of us wouldn’t be able to deal with has been nothing short of astounding.

Eyes have been opened, and people who would once not listen or acknowledge the racism plague are now doing so because of how Sterling has confronted the issue.

And that’s what makes Sterling so worthy. Not only has he performed a vital role on the pitch, but he’s also taken up the mantle as a leader of something far more serious off of it.

That deserves recognition. Mohamed Salah may be impressive, Virgil van Dijk may have been immense and Eden Hazard as good as ever, but none can match Sterling for what he’s done. The Manchester City star is the darling of England at this moment and rightly so. The player of the year award should be his by a landslide this year.