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The Rise And Rise Of Raheem Sterling

by TheAnfieldWrap // 24 April 2014 // 10 Comments

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By Craig Rimmer

RAHEEM STERLING ran half the length of the Carrow Road pitch, avoiding the adoration of his teammates, headed in the direction of Brendan Rodgers, his manager and mentor. He had just scored the opening goal Norwich after 3 minutes and helped to tee up another Liverpool victory. 11 from 11.  

It was the second time in a week that Sterling had scored a vital and sensational opening goal, having terrorised Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart seven days earlier, and Sterling would go on to score the decisive 3rd to secure the win over Norwich and put The Reds within spitting distance of the league title

Football - FA Premier League - Norwich City FC v Liverpool FC

Sterling has risen to the fore at the business end of a potentially glorious league title challenge. Under the shadow of a 24 year wait. At a club which has dared to dream again. The pressure is unlikely to get much more intense than this and Sterling has flourished in spite of it all.

He has been the most consistently impressive member of Liverpool’s attacking triumvirate over the course of the second half of the season. And, regardless of what the voting may or may not reveal, Sterling has also been the standout young player of this Premier League season.

Arguably helped by the focus of attention on the league’s leading goalscorers and player of the year candidates – Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – Sterling has, until now, been able to make phenomenally rapid progress away from the kind of incessant attention and expectation which would normally accompany a young player in a similar circumstance.

Sterling is also one of those to benefit most from the arrival of Rodgers at Anfield. It was Dalglish who gave Sterling his debut as a 17-year-old a little over two years ago, but it was Rodgers who awarded him with his first league start in a 2-2 draw against Man City in August 2012.

Sterling was given a dressing down by Rodgers in the now famous scene from the Being Liverpool documentary. An episode which had the potential to be counter-productive, but Rodgers had identified something in Sterling and knew the best way to coerce the youngster into becoming the Liverpool player he is today.

Rodgers deserves credit for nurturing the conditions which have allowed Sterling to make such rapid progress and for standing by the player when many others were ready to write-off his immediate and long-term prospects.

To be honest, Sterling was abject in the 3-1 defeat to Hull City in early December. At that point even I had consigned him to a loan spell in the Championship or a return to the reserves. But the transformation since has been quite remarkable and included 9 goals and 5 assists.

I said recently on The Anfield Wrap that Sterling could be as good as, if not better than, Suarez a couple of years from now. An outrageous statement, made high on the adrenalin of another breathless performance from the Champions-elect, maybe. No doubt Sterling has a long way to go to justify those claims.

But I would challenge anybody to show me another teenager – past or present – who is as technically strong, tactically switched-on and blatantly confident in his own ability as Raheem Sterling is at the age of 19.

At 19, Luis Suarez had just sealed a move to FC Groningen and the Dutch Eredivisie. At 19, Raheem Sterling is winning Premier League titles and producing stand-out performances in a team of stand-out attacking footballers.

Sterling is deceptively strong, intelligent in possession and blessed with pace and sublime technique. But, it is his tactical intelligence, his ability to retain the ball, find the right pass or slow the game down, which set him apart. It is his ability to defy logic and convert from adept wide forward to, even more astute, number 10 with a spell filling in at right-back for good measure.
Football - FA Premier League - Norwich City FC v Liverpool FC
He has been key to Rodgers tactic of starting games on the front foot and regularly running teams into submission during the opening 20 minutes of matches. But he has also shown enough football intelligence to adapt his game according to the circumstance and according to the opponent.

His performances have impressed to an extent that even Roy Hodgson has found impossible to resist. A summer is Brazil remains a concern. Beyond the worry of what damage a summer with the Hodge could inflict on any young starlet is the possibility of fatigue for a player still only 19 and with the additional demands of Champions League football on the horizon.

The obvious comparison is Michael Owen. Owen was a similarly exciting prospect at a similar age. But, Owen’s game was more limited – a decent finisher, but reliant on pace with little subtlety to his game. Once the pace went and the injuries and fatigue took hold, Owen was always likely to fade.

Sterling has far more layers to his game and a much broader football intelligence. Furthermore, Rodgers has demonstrated an inclination to withdraw Sterling from the first team when he has seen fit and a summer of squad strengthening may afford the manager the option to rotate with more regularity next term.

What remains unquestionable is that Sterling’s potential is virtually without limit and, just as significantly, he has in Rodgers the ideal manager to fulfill it.

It is a potent mix and it means that Liverpool fans can have much more to look forward to than just glory in May.

Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda

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10 Comments

  1. Brilliant. I as well worry about what a summer in Brazil will do to Sterling. Forget Madrid coming in for Suarez, I could see them coming in for Sterling.

  2. Excellent article Craig, and I agree, he can be anything he wants to be. He has got it all. If we’re smart we could have both the lynchpin of our midfield and the best young manager in the game signed up for years to come.

  3. “Raheem Sterling is winning Premier League titles” I love the confidence. Now bring on Chelsea!!

  4. This title run in is becoming like a truth and reconciliation process. Apologies for doubting Brendan Rodgers, admissions of being wrong over FSG, Joe Allen and now Raheem Sterling.
    During the first half of the season I told mates he’d never make it as a Liverpool player. I was convinced he wasn’t strong enough – would get pushed off the ball too easily by big defenders. So, for me personally, I’m amazed at the player he’s become and even more amazed at his strength. I trust Rodgers to manage him well when he gets back from Brazil. I think all of the players have been managed well this season. Our low injury rate is testament to that.
    Me and my mates had a group message argument today about who was most instrumental in our winning the league (assuming we do) – Rodgers or Suarez. I went for Suarez but reading articles like this reminds me of how many aspects of the club Rodgers has got right. Sterling is the finest example of all of being managed well.

    • I don’t know how you could compare Rodgers and suarez personally but if you had to it has to be Rodgers or both. I think Rodgers has also helped to harness suarez’s impudence and drive and turn him into a genuine striker who is ice cold in front of goal as well as a genuine leader of the younger players, especially sterling who he seems to have taken under his wing.

      • I agree you can’t make a comparison. It was kind of – who has been the major catalyst for our success, a brilliant manager or having one of the best players in the world. I certainly don’t think we’d be where we are without Suarez but then the same applies to Rodgers. I just put the question out there due to boredom at work or more to the point not being able to concentrate on work. You’re right though, it’s down to both.

    • Not only the low injury rate but the lack of suspensions. 1 red card in a season and, if memory serves, only Lucas has missed a game due to suspension. *

      *Suarez’s suspension was a hangover from last season.

  5. Sterling’s well better than Owen in the late ’90s which is insane in itself and I don’t say lightly. Never thought I’d see a better kid at professional level than Owen ever, but there it is.

  6. Sorry Robin, there are no catalysts this season. To be a catalyst, you have to be unchanged after the reaction. No one can be unchanged after this season!

    • Nice analogy! I think i was perhaps trying to quantify something that can’t be quantified. In saying that though, most of my mates were convinced Rodgers was definitely the catalyst.

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