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Sterling not even Man City's best: Why Ballon d'Or talk just hype in overdrive

COMMENT: "What chance has he got, hey?" the voice boomed through a Skype call this week. "What chance when they keep ignoring him...?!"

Our source from Portugal was exacerbated. Close to Jose, though this conversation had nothing to do with Mourinho. No, the subject was Bernardo Silva. His form. And the midfielder's chances of some decent recognition as a Manchester City player.

In Portugal, they speak openly about it. As open as Pep Guardiola, the player's manager at City. Bernardo, for the past 12 months, has been as good as anyone on the pitch - anywhere in the world. But you won't hear this in England. Even with Guardiola championing his cause. No, the one City player capable of getting on the Ballon d'Or dais isn't Bernardo. It isn't even Kevin de Bruyne. The hype today. The focus. It's all about Raheem Sterling.

Good player. Potentially a great player. But the one to legitimately (no, we haven't forgotten Luka Modric) break the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? C'mon. As our Portuguese friend barked, "Best in the world? He's not even the best at Manchester (City)!"

The English media hype is in overdrive this week. And to be fair, if someone is to benefit from it, then let it be Sterling. Certainly Pepsi have recognised it - or at least are about to. The latest this week being the drinks giant are close to securing an endorsement deal with Sterling which will put him on par with Messi, himself. And yes, his football has been the driving factor in this off-field success. Though it has be said, wearing an England shirt also has it's benefits. Again, the earning potential of Bernardo and De Bruyne - off the pitch - is nothing like their City teammate. The exploits of Portugal and Belgium just don't produce the same worldwide headlines as the Three Lions - whether it be good or bad.

Which is fine. It's the way of the world. But what a player can earn away from the game has nothing to do with what he can produce on it. But it can find it's way into the coverage - especially when it comes to the Premier League.

Sterling or Bernardo? Who would you choose? What about Sterling or De Bruyne? Or even Sergio Aguero? Especially in big games. Games that matter. The defences of Kosovo and Bulgaria aren't exactly those of France or Croatia. And it's in these internationals, where Sterling has less support than he enjoys at City, where he can really make his mark. Be a leader. One to grab hold of a game and shake it. But against the elite, when it really matters, he's yet to prove it.

In a City shirt, for all the buzz around Sterling's start to the season, it's still a struggle to recall any five-star performance against a genuine peer. Under Guardiola, the improvement in Sterling's game has been excellent - but not exceptional. To be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo is undeserved. Almost ridiculous. Two players who produce week after week - no matter the opposition. To be worthy of such recognition, to be even mentioned alongside, Sterling needs to give us a performance against a real contender. Something, no matter the claims of his fans in the English media, he's yet to do.

It's significant that Guardiola demanded better from the press for Bernardo - not Sterling - at the beginning of the season. Like our source from Portugal, the City manager exacerbated by the complete disregard shown to his No20 after the last campaign.

“It doesn't matter if the people who consider the UEFA awards or FIFA awards don't select one of our players," stated Guardiola just last month. “But I don't think one player had a better season that Bernardo Silva, for example, who also won the Nations League with Portugal.

“Maybe we have to win five titles - or maybe Bernardo has to win six?"

In that rant, the manager name-checked another player from the previous season - the one of "100 points", but it wasn't Sterling: "Kevin De Bruyne, that season, was above and beyond any normal situation."

Bernardo? De Bruyne ("...the best playmaker in the world", as put by his Belgium coach Roberto Martinez)? Do they ever get mentioned as Ballon d'Or contenders? Have they ever been pushed by the local media as Sterling is today? Or to put it more simply: who is more deserving? Worthy?

As mentioned, at 24, Sterling still has the time and potential to develop into a great player. But youth is also on the sides of De Bruyne and Bernardo - and they're already producing matchwinning performances consistently.

Sterling for the Ballon d'Or? He's not even the best at Man City.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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