Raheem Sterling: Man City forward ends Liverpool drought with growing maturity
As Wembley emptied and a celebratory sea of blue headed towards the exits, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling was mingling with rival Liverpool fans on the far side of the stadium.
Some of that Reds support had booed, jeered and tormented him for 90 minutes but Sterling was signing shirts and posing for photographs.
It was a graceful gesture from a casted villain who had scored in front of the Liverpool support an hour earlier.
Sterling's scoring contribution to Manchester City's Community Shield penalty shootout win ended a drought of 10 games without a goal against his former club.
Since his sour departure from Anfield in July 2015 he has endured the wrath of Liverpool fans.
But his impact at Wembley ended the hoodoo he has suffered against Liverpool in recent years and at the same time suggested he can continue his mature progress on and off the pitch.
Getting his own back
Manchester City against Liverpool forged a captivating title rivalry last season, but Sterling has his own ongoing battle with the Anfield side.
He was once their golden boy - an academy graduate with pace to burn and talent to inspire. But then he left.
It was a bad break-up and he was booed when he was awarded Liverpool's Young Player of the Year just 24 hours after it had emerged he would ask to leave the club.
Liverpool fans aiming their ire at Sterling has become a common theme and perhaps he has felt it, failing to score in his previous 10 games against them.
And here again at Wembley, fans jeered when his name was read out before kick-off and every tussle with Joe Gomez drew pointed fingers from Liverpool fans behind the goal.
It took just 12 minutes for him to silence them; he poked in the opener from close range into the same net they sat behind, and he didn't hold back on the celebrations, sprinting off to the right touchline with his arms outstretched.
His team-mates understood what it meant and every one of them embraced Sterling. He had finally been able to break a stretch of disappointment against Liverpool.
It was a stark contrast to the scenes at Anfield in January 2018 when Sterling trudged off to the sidelines after being tormented for 71 minutes, before Liverpool went on to win 4-3 in dramatic fashion.
A central role for Sterling
His goal was another milestone in a career that is blossoming under Pep Guardiola at City.
The England international was instrumental to their Premier League success last season and has become an integral part of the team.
At Wembley, he lined up in a central striker's role, a position usually reserved for Sergio Aguero.
At first, he flourished - Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold were both robbed of possession by Sterling either side of the winger's goal.
He was a menace - cutting in from wide positions, pressing high and receiving the ball in dangerous areas in and around the box.
A spinning turn set up David Silva immediately after the break too and a few minutes later, Sterling smacked the outside of the right post when he beat the offside trap.
That was one of two big chances he should have buried. After Liverpool themselves hit the woodwork twice, Sterling was in again, but hesitated in front of goalkeeper Alisson and ended up running straight into the Brazilian.
Kyle Walker, who was unmarked and waiting for the squared pass, reacted by falling to his knees and the pair were waving arms at each other as play continued up the other end.
The miss might have been a blow to his morale, with Guardiola admitting Sterling was a little hesitant to take a spot-kick in the shootout.
"Maybe today he didn't have that feeling, that confidence," he said. "Next time he'll take it if he believes. I don't like a player taking a penalty when he's not sure."
Is there another level?
Despite his performance tailing off in the second half, Sterling ensured he had been directly involved in seven goals in his last four appearances at Wembley.
He had more shots than any of his team-mates (three) - including two on target - and played as many key passes as colleagues Silva and Walker (two).
It was also his fifth goal in as many games this summer, after he ended the 2018-19 season with a double in the FA Cup final.
And after scoring 25 goals in all competitions last season - his highest tally in a single campaign - Sterling's trajectory is facing up.
At national level he has been given more responsibility by England boss Gareth Southgate, captaining the side for the first time in June.
He was also voted the Football Writers' Association's Player of the Year for his contributions on the pitch and his leadership on social issues such as racism.
The new-found image as a role model seems to have paid dividends for Sterling, who demonstrated that again at Wembley when he posed for photos with the same Liverpool fans who had booed him for 90 minutes - it is just one more step in the right direction for an increasingly impressive player and person.