Pep Guardiola has said Manchester City "have to keep" Raheem Sterling amid rumours some of Europe's biggest clubs are interested in the prolific winger, who has yet to extend his contract with the Premier League leaders.
However, Guardiola talked up Sterling's value, per Paul Wilson of the Guardian: "There is no doubt we have to keep him. Maybe other clubs are now interested in him because he is playing so well, but he knows how important he is to us."
The City manager also said director of football Txiki Begiristain is talking about a new deal for Sterling.
Guardiola's words supported recent reports the Citizens have been planning to begin negotiations with Sterling over extending his contract. Those talks are set to take place before the end of the season, according to ESPN FC's Peter O'Rourke.
Keeping Sterling is a necessity for City after the way the England international has improved on Guardiola's watch. The 23-year-old has always been blessed with incredible pace but has refined both his movement and scoring touch this season.
Those improvements have led to a breakout campaign in front of goal, with Sterling finding the net 20 times across all competitions. His more perceptive runs between the lines and keener eye for goal have lent a greater cutting edge to a City side loaded in attacking areas.
Strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are both prolific, while winger Leroy Sane offers trickery and flair.
Sterling has been decisive because of the way his direct style dovetails with City's possession-based game. His runs provide the ideal foil for the vision of cerebral playmakers Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.
The England international has firmly established himself as a cornerstone of a City squad 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table. His best years are also ahead of him, so the Citizens should do all they can to secure his long-term future.