Alan Shearer feels Man City face a battle to keep Raheem Sterling out of Real Madrid's clutches if they fail to overturn their UEFA ban.
The England international has been linked with a £180million move to the Spanish giants.
Reports claimed Madrid were already planning to swoop for Sterling, even prior to City receiving a two-year suspension from the Champions League.
And Shearer believes Sterling's future hinges on the success of City's appeal.
"Don’t forget he’s still only 25, so he should have his best years ahead of him," Shearer told the Sun. "I don’t see the Champions League tie as an audition - he will want to put on a show regardless to help City into the quarter-finals.
"Yet you don’t need to be a genius to work out the impact of City being banned from Europe for two years if they fail with their appeal.
"Whether it is Sterling or another star like Kevin De Bruyne, it doesn’t matter what they may claim - they will want to be playing in Europe. Rival clubs will know that, too."
Sterling himself has seemingly offered Madrid some bait, labelling them a "fantastic club" and admitting he is "always open" to new challenges.
Speaking to AS about the speculation, he said: "It’s one of those things… Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy.
“ Real Madrid are a fantastic club, when you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive.
“But at the same time, I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”
The last-16 tie against Madrid offers Sterling the perfect chance to showcase his talents in front of Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane.
He added: "No one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at Manchester City.
“In the future, hopefully, who knows.”