Raheem Sterling casts his mind back to the start of his Manchester City career to reflect on a turbulent debut season at Chelsea.
“My first two years at City, it was not all beauty,” he says. “We had to build step by step and that’s exactly what we have to do here at Chelsea.”
From his arrival in 2015 until 2017, a League Cup triumph in 2016 was City's sole trophy and all they had to show for their exertions in four competitions.
They came fourth and third too in a Premier League they have since dominated.
That latter placing came in Pep Guardiola’s eagerly-awaited first season as they finished empty-handed and the Spaniard came under intense scrutiny as he tried to shape their transformation.
It was way below the expectations of the club and their supporters - something six-time league champions Chelsea can relate to now as they endure their worst campaign in the Premier League era.
The Blues, who host Newcastle in Sunday’s final day of fixtures, are in 12th place with a 43-point tally after spending £600 million on 16 new signings under new owner Todd Boehly.
Their fall - in contrast to the rise of Eddie Howe's side as they secured Champions League football next season after previously battling relegation - has been astonishing.
Just 15 months ago Chelsea were crowned World Club champions in Abu Dhabi - following on from their 1-0 victory in Porto over Sterling’s City side in the 2021 Champions League final.
Critics and fans have savaged them for their under-achievement since, with Sterling among the main targets following last summer’s £50m arrival from City, where he won four league titles and six domestic cups.
“It’s been hard, but it’s a transitional period for the club and I know, like everything, how things can be,” the 28-year-old tells Arab News exclusively.
“There’s an expectation of a certain level for clubs and players, and if you don’t match that, then you are going to get that criticism.
“But that’s what you want at this top level, because that’s what drives you to build, to get better and have a better season than the one we have had this season.
“And I have got no doubt that once we get the organisation right, once we get the personnel right, then we will be challenging.”
And Sterling, who was left out of England’s squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia in June after talks with boss Gareth Southgate amid injury concerns, is ready to accept the challenges ahead.
He has faced hardships and vitriol before. Whether it was his acrimonious departure from Liverpool to City, leading the fight against racism or having to constantly prove his worth for England, for whom he has 20 goals in 82 appearances.
As a two-year-old, Jamaica-born Sterling’s father was murdered and his mother Nadine moved to England to provide a better life for the family.
Setbacks only serve as a driving force for the forward to respond and succeed.
So too does watching former club City lift this season’s title for a fifth time in six seasons - and after a 1-0 loss at the Etihad where the Chelsea players formed a guard of honour for the champions beforehand.
"That’s what I want, that’s the level I want to be at, that’s the motivation for me," adds Sterling, who has scored nine goals for Chelsea but struggled to find consistency in a side unsettled by managerial changes and the influx of new faces.
“It’s not been hard at all for me personally. I don’t hear the criticism. I keep working, keep going and that’s it.
“I’ve got the ambition to do well. This is one season and you just have to brush it off and go again.
“Sometimes these tough times are what gets you to go to the next level. That’s why you use this fuel, you use this motivation of seeing City, my old club, win the title, right in front of me, and go again. It’s simple.
“That’s the level I’ve been at for the past seven years and that’s the level I want to stay at. I won’t accept this season and we just build now.”
Chelsea’s rebuild will begin with the imminent arrival of Argentine Mauricio Pochettino to take charge.
He will be the club’s fifth manager since September, following the departures of Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and interim bosses Bruno Saltor and Frank Lampard, who will lead them for the last time against Newcastle.
Sterling believes Pochettino, who managed Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain, can restore the good times at Chelsea.
“From his time before at Tottenham, I heard a conversation about him and he’s the exact person that we need,” he says.
“He will bring leadership, he will challenge players physically and mentally and I think he is going to come here and he is going to have the personality that everyone is going to respect. That’s what we need, someone in charge.”
Sterling adds: “We have a good squad, the quality is there. We will add some players and some will leave, I get it, but there’s no doubt in my mind we will be challenging again very soon.
“From the start of this season we have not had our best XI out. The majority of it, we have had 11, 12 players out injured so it was an unfair start.
“But then again, these are the challenges that happen at the top football clubs and it will get us the consistency we need.
“It’s been hard work, it’s been a tough season, but I always believe after tough times there will be good times if you keep working hard.
“No matter how this season has gone, good, bad or indifferent, I’ve tried to keep the same focus, the same work-rate and believe you will see the shadow pass.”