By 90Min
October 30, 2019

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have dominated the Ballon d'Or for over a decade, but their reign is coming to an end and a new champion will soon step forward.

It takes a well-rounded player to be crowned as the greatest on the planet. One who is intelligent, supremely talented, and never truly satisfied with his work. One man clearly fits the bill. 

Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling - whose development in recent seasons has been nothing short of incredible - is the next in line to dominate football's greatest individual prize.

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Go back three years to Pep Guardiola's arrival at the Etihad Stadium and people would have laughed at the notion of Sterling being in Ballon d'Or contention. 

However, no one's laughing now after he collected the 2019 Football Writers' Player of the Season gong, before this month being nominated for the most prestigious individual honour football has to offer.

It should be no surprise to see the 24-year-old among a star-studded list of players vying for the Ballon d'Or in light of his scintillating performances for City. We're not just talking about this season, but each of the last three. He's proved this isn't form, this is sheer class.

Racking up the goals is not enough on its own to be win the award, but it puts you in the conversation, and my goodness is Sterling in the conversation after the numbers he's been posting recently.

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In his 14 club appearances thus far in 2019/20, the forward has scored 13 times and assisted a further five.

On top of this, Sterling has struck eight goals for the Three Lions during their European Championship qualifying campaign, doing so in just six games. 

And he's reaching these figures without being the lead striker for either the Sky Blues or Gareth Southgate's side. He's not the attacking focal point, constantly being played through on goal; rather, he's been somewhat of a second option for both teams, taking basically every chance he gets. 

The four goals he's notched in the Champions League group stages this term have come from only nine attempts. That's frightening accuracy from Sterling, demonstrating how far his finishing has come under Guardiola's tutelage.

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Prior to the Catalan's arrival in Manchester, the wideman had been heavily criticised for a lack of composure and technique when presented with opportunities. He's at the opposite end of the spectrum these days.

It speaks volumes of his development, which shows no signs of letting up. Sterling scored just two goals for England in his first six years representing the national team. In the space of 12 months - starting in October 2018 - he added a further ten to his tally.

In similar fashion, Sterling's tallies for City in 2017/18 and 2018/19 bettered the combined total he hit in the two previous campaigns at Eastlands, and he's on course to continue his improvement this season.

But, why is the Liverpool academy graduate making such phenomenal progress? 

He can thank two individuals for that - his manager and, well, himself.

Pep has spent countless hours on the training ground ensuring Sterling's technique is faultless, though that is only one part of the equation. The boss has also changed the way he looks at and understands the game of football.

Watch the forward's movement in matches. In attack, he's invariably finding pockets of space, reading what his teammates are about to do, and ceaselessly picking the right option in high-pressure environments.

All of this highlights that he is about so much more than goals. Considering the scoring numbers we've already looked at, it's scary how Sterling excels in almost all other aspects of the game.

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Passing is one quality he possesses that few truly appreciate - in spite of his glorious scooped assist for David Silva in the 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace. He made it look effortless because it was, indeed, effortless for him. 

For Sterling, such mesmerising passes come easily. What hasn't come so easily is the leadership role he has been thrust into, not just for the Sky Blues, but for black footballers across the globe.

The two-time Premier League champion's defiant stance on racial abuse was inspiring and earned him innumerable fans, with his courage and tireless efforts massively contributing to the fight against discrimination in the sport.

That bravery has made him a popular figure among his fellow professionals, which certainly won't harm his chances of taking home the Ballon d'Or in the near future. On top of that, it also explains why he has become a big game player in recent years

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The spotlight doesn't faze Sterling in the slightest. It was he who fired in the winning spot-kick in the penalty-shootout triumph over Chelsea in the 2019 League Cup final. 

A few months down the line, it was again he who grabbed a hat-trick in the 6-0 decimation of Watford in the FA Cup final.

Though City ultimately lost their Champions League quarter-final meeting with Tottenham Hotspur, the man in question rifled home a wonderful opener and later restored his side's lead.

That taste for the big occasion may be what seals his Ballon d'Or triumph. It appears that collecting major trophies is a fundamental part of earning the award, and Sterling is likely to have some crunch fixtures ahead of him in the coming months and years.

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It may be an outside chance, but it really isn't that unlikely for him to win both the Euros - which are partly held in England - and the Champions League in 2020. 

Should Sterling do that and continue his meteoric rise to the top of the footballing pyramid, he will be nailed on for grandest prize of all.


For more from Ed Alexander, follow him on Twitter!

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