NO outfield player at Liverpool Football Club has played more minutes through the first eight weeks of the season than Raheem Sterling, writes REY MASHAYEKHI.
Not the inexhaustible Jordan Henderson, nor the preferred centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel. At the age of 19 – when most of us were sleeping in through class and making all sorts of mistakes we’d rather forget – he’s become an indispensable asset to one of the biggest sporting institutions in the world.
He’s become equally important to his national side, which, as its fans and advocates would have you believe, is the biggest and most special institution of all – a privilege fit for only the best of footballers, and one any footballer should privileged to serve. And serve it, Sterling has – only six months after many were writing the kid off for a loan spell in the Championship, he found himself on the plane to Brazil, where he’d be an ever-present during England’s calamitous disaster of a World Cup campaign. There, he and 22 other players gave their all to a futile cause while their manager sat, and stared, and sat some more, and stared some more, and did this.
It’s been a remarkable rise for Sterling, who was arguably the standout performer during Liverpool’s remarkable 16-match unbeaten streak in the second half of last season. He was always earmarked for greatness as a kid in the Liverpool academy; the question was whether the club staff could coax that brilliance out of him, and how long it would take. Now, with the likes of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly coveting the player, he’s expected to sign a new contract that will make him a very, very rich man – one of the richest at Liverpool Football Club.
He’s earned it. Factoring in time spent on the pitch for the England national team over the course of two international breaks , Sterling has played 1,105 minutes of football so far this season – more than all but two members of the England senior squad. He’s been catapulted into a position of out-sized importance for his club, which is still acclimatising to the loss of perhaps the world’s greatest footballer and the inclusion of a host of expensive, new faces. Brendan Rodgers took more than his share of guff for leaving Sterling out of the lineup against Aston Villa last month – as though Sterling would have done a job on Philippe Senderos on set pieces – while the England brain trust has continued to ride the Sterling hype-train for all it’s worth.
They’re a weird thing, cautionary tales. No matter how many stories we hear about promising young stars burning out too fast and too soon, we still expect the world of them. Sterling is no exception; it wasn’t long ago that the pressures and privileges of his newly-found fame and fortune were being cited when considering his brush-in with the law. Both on and off the pitch, such pressures can be immense for an individual yet to depart his teenage years. Make no mistake, Sterling is a professional and should be treated as such. But no matter the value of his new contract, the circumstances of his situation should never be taken for granted.
And so now we have this latest furor – Alan Shearer mouthing off in the pages of Britain’s most despicable media establishment, spinning the same old yarn evoking the same old outdated way of thinking when it comes to what we expect from our athletes. Our noise within our contemporary echo chamber has been deafening, with anyone within touching distance of a keyboard – so basically everyone – coming to some sort of judgment over whether Sterling has the right to ask the England gaffer for a rest. Never mind the minutes he’s logged this campaign; never mind the shift he put in 72 hours earlier; never mind the fact that England’s qualification for a 24-team Euro 2016 – much less getting the result in Estonia with a squad loaded with Premier League stars – should be a forgone conclusion.
If you ask me, there’s an inescapable racial element to it all – an overwhelmingly white power structure, perpetuated by malevolent elements within mainstream British media, assuming judgement and authority over a young black male and his body. Such an element may function in mere undertones, perhaps, but one can’t help but sense that it is indeed there. It’s the same sort of undertone that can barely conceal its disdain for Daniel Sturridge’s dance; which has sought to exploit every facet of Mario Balotelli’s off-field behaviour since he first arrived in England.
Race politics aside, it also reeks of the sort of uninformed groupthink that endlessly permeates through football-related discussions on Twitter and the countless internet message board where fans spout their opinions. Make no mistake, people have every right to be as wrong about football as they want; the problem is when such inaccuracies are perpetuated so loudly that they become accepted as fact, and in turn pile unwarranted heaps of pressure on a player before he’s even developed into the final article. It can lead to the sort of barracking that sees Lucas Leiva lambasted as a liability not fit to wear the Liverpool shirt; lo and behold, before suffering his traumatic knee injury in November 2011, he had effectively become Liverpool’s most influential midfielder under Kenny Dalglish.
This is why the discussion that’s erupted over Sterling in the past 24 to 48 hours is nothing short of dangerous – not only because it assumes authority over the player, his body and his career, but also that it manifests itself in ways that, nowadays, are incredibly visible to the party concerned and can, in turn, heap even more pressure upon his young legs and developing ego. Sterling’s heard basically every word of this absurd discourse in the period it’s arisen, and while it would have been great for him to have turned a deaf ear to it all, switched off his phone and gone on with developing into the best footballer he can possibly be, his Twitter timeline suggests otherwise. We all crave acceptance; professional footballers, much less teenagers, are no different.
There should be no place in Raheem Sterling’s life for the vitriol-infused discourse we’ve seen this week, or the sort of ill-informed and outdated attitude that sees no wrong in demanding three games a week or 50 matches a year from a young man before he’s reached his 20th birthday. I don’t care how talented he is or how much money he earns; even Lionel Messi didn’t have the full weight of both club and country heaped upon his shoulders at that age. As Neil Atkinson mentioned on the pod last week, we don’t demand 10 months of non-stop brilliance a year from the world’s greatest tennis players, such is the level of scrutiny footballers are in for these days.
This will all blow over, of course. Liverpool supporters, brilliant as they are, will support Sterling as fiercely as ever when he trots out under the Anfield lights next week (ready and rested, of course) to take on the champions of Europe. He has the guidance of one of the brightest, most progressive managers in the game – a football man through and through, one who’s built an entire career on nurturing potential, one who’s seen more than his share of players both make it to the pinnacle of the sport and break under the pressures of being a top-level footballer.
Make no mistake, Raheem Sterling is in good hands. But will that be enough?
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
THERE IT IS, The race card, just chuck it out their, like ww2 propaganda……..If you ask me, there’s an inescapable racial element to it all – an overwhelmingly white power structure, perpetuated by malevolent elements within mainstream British media, assuming judgement and authority over a young black male and his body…………people have every right to be as wrong about football as they want; the problem is when such inaccuracies are perpetuated so loudly that they become accepted as fact, like what you are doing in this article………..Are you listening to yourself????
How many non-blacks has this happened to before Sterling inc. Owen and Rooney etc.! History does not go back to when you learned to count to ten you daft punt!
Agree with nearly all of this, but I’m not sure there’s any conscious racial element to this. Unconscious perhaps but, wrong as that is, I think it stems more from the fact that Hodgson’s actually a vindictive old get with a grudge against our club and now our manager.
It’s quite revealing how the rest of the country is catching up with what we’ve known for some time. Of course it didn’t take long for Hodgson Defence League to mobilise but on balance he’s not coming out of this very well. I just hope our manager responds by not responding cos the more Hodge says the more people see him for what he is. An incompetent football manager and an inept man manager.
The flipside of having a 19 year old as a team’s lynchpin.
Sterling was the standout performer in the last third of 13/14 season. After being squeezed out during Rodgers’ 3-5-2 phase, he seamlessly fitted into the lightning-fast, Dortmund-style system and one could n’t help but marvel at the talent and temperament he possessed in playing across the forward line both on the wing and as a no10.
He has replaced Suarez in terms in providing the magic, the ‘x’ factor if you will. Unfortunately circumstances have meant responsibility for providing magic moments during matches has (for now at least) landed squarely and solely on his shoulders. Hence his playing time has not been curbed and Rodgers has to take at least some responsibility for that. I don’t know why Hodgson is getting it in the neck, since he actually did the right thing in this instance, even if his words to the press were not entirely helpful.
I think the prolonged integration of new signings has been the chief reason for Sterling staying on the pitch for perhaps longer than he should. There has also been Coutinho’s poor start to the season and the sluggishness of the midfield in providing him with runs and passes in the opposition’s third.
The supposed racial undertones of this case I find rather far-fetched, but I share the author’s optimism that once the burden has been lifted from him a little and a new system firmly established, he will once again flourish on the pitch.
Football eats its young? Sorry I just don’t think so.This is Hodgson feeding him to the lions.
I could be mistaken here but I’m certain I heard Hodgson saying before the game that Sterling was tired and so he had decided to play Lallana.
After a miserable pathetic performance against such a lowly ranked team (playing with 10 men for virtually the whole of the 2nd half) he comes out and says Sterling didn’t want to play.
So I have to say if you know anything at all about football;never mind Liverpool;you will know that Hodgson is one conniving,self-serving fraud of a man.He knew full what he was doing when he made that statement.
Here was his team and his tactics failing in every sense of the word to get to grips with a team of also-rans hardly capable of stringing two passes together.And this was against a team playing with a man short for virtually all of the 2nd half.
No,don’t fall into that trap of racism or young footballers with too much money.This was simply Hodgson throwing up a smokescreen for another abject failure.
This is a man whose whole career has been been based on trying to arrive at a Club or Team with recent success before he arrived and then trying to take the credit for it.
But remember this;Hodgson is an old schoolboy (“one of us doncha know?) and so the majority of hacks will be falling over themselves to steer away from the real issue and talk about Sterling.
The facts remain.England produced a pitiful effort in the World Cup.Most of the Managers who failed to progress from the Group stages fell on their swords.
How does Hodgson survive? Well he has a never ending supply of sacrificial lambs to the media.
Young millionaire footballer a lazy b*****d? Nobody can understand Liverpool accents?
Make no mistake;this is one manipulative individual and the hacks are falling for it every time.
And don’t they just just love them?They’ll forgive anything for a cheap story.
Great comment and spot on!
As always, that poor excuse of an England manager is trying to blame anyone for his own shortcomings.
What I really can’t stand to see is him sitting in the box at Anfield next to our legends. As a club, LFC may have to accommodate him but as fans, we don’t and shouldn’t! So next time he rolls up to Anfield, he should be greeted with repeated chants of – “F*** off Hodgson, F*** off Hodgson, F*** off Hodgson, F*** off & don’t come back”
I apologise to all the readers in advance but he really dose make my blood boil – more so than even ‘red nose’, at least he was a proper manager!
This is the point. The Hodge getting away with it. I loved your response to the article. The man must know where the bodies are buried. Must do.
I read John Gibbons article in the latest TAW magazine about ways to re-engage us with the England side. I was actually quoting from it yesterday. In some ways it changed the way I think. I realised I don’t hate the England national side as much as I like to think. In my teens I was fully patriotic when they played. Something happened which made me lose that. I thought a possible reason might have been an embarrassment of our colonial past or a strong dislike for the queen and the anthem all mixed in with the perceived right wing cockney following.
I approached yesterday’s game differently. Less negative about it being on. Sunday at 5pm helped too. Wasn’t much happening elsewhere. Anyway, I watched it, it finished and that was that. My new found acceptance of England lasted less than a day. It’s pointless trying to be less bitter. I despise everything about the national side. That’s not true, I’ve nothing against the players. It’s just the manager. The FA. The ex players. The whole set up is a joke. How dare anyone question Sterling. How dare Hodgson question Liverpool’s training methods. We’ve done very well keeping our players injury free. Ask Arsenal fans if they’d like our training regimes or theirs. Of course, the bit that makes me most angry is the fact that our title hopes finished during the last international break. Is he taking the piss out of us? It’s impossible to get behind something that shows this level of incompetence.
We’re all obsessed by football cliches but that’s all they are. Fuckin diamonds and plan B’s. No one knows what they’re on about half the time. “We’ll burn him out”. Why the fuck is he on the bench against Villa? Young players being over played burn out. It’s not a cliche. It’s not scaremongering. It’s fact. It can be both mentally or physically. Look at Sterling’s last 12 months. It’s been grueling. Rodgers didn’t help him either playing him for 2 hours against Boro. Daft. But then Liverpool exists to win trophies. The games changed since that quote. The League Cup meant nothing to me. Good day out, granted, but it didn’t leave me feeling like a king. Only the Premier League and Champions League can do that.
But, without the recent history to this case, the story doesn’t get this far. I’m sure Rodgers asked Sterling to test the water. The lads tired. Why waste him on England? An archaic, out of touch set up full of hypocrites and snakes. Anyway, I thought this was a good piece. Very accurate except I raised an eyebrow when you mentioned it’s a racist thing. Not sure I’m having that. Some people just think England is more important than club. Rooney gets it too. Gerrard did prior to calling it a day. It’s the nature of pundits and so called journalists. They’re all a joke. There’s no bigger joke in football though than Roy Hodgson and the FA.
100% on the money there Robin – well said!
I’ll leave the more informed replies to the people above.
*** Roy Hodge Podge is an absolute bellend of a football manager ***
If you keep that in mind every time he speaks or does us a disservice it will help you rationalise what has happened. It won’t make it any better but you can at least find some perspective.
Get this tosser off this otherwise brilliant website – introducing unfounded racial paranoia undermines the whole article.
Unbelievably wide of the mark
Has the podcast been held back while Neil et al address the above like rabid dogs?
Get it out lads, it’s a lifeline to me in Finland!
Often I find myself watching The O’Reilly Factor or some other vile right wing soap box from Fox News. I do this to better understand those who have a very different world view to mine.
And once or twice every few months they lambaste someone for using the race card to defend center leaning black politicians from their criticisms.
And the conclusion Ive drawn is that the absolute worst thing any right minded individual can do to shield cunts with an obviously racist agenda (closeted or not) is play the race card when there is completely no need – not to mention no proof.
This is very simply a club vs country, Rodgers vs Hodgson issue. And as has been discussed on here and on the podcast before, Hodgson was championed by so many on fleet street that these influential journalists must take the owl’s side and fail to criticise him lest they let it be known they were all wrong about someone who is the very definition of mediocre. No need for racism to be involved at all.
is it club vs country? It’s bitter ex manager vs new pretty successful manager.
If it’s club vs country, it’s liverpool vs country and it’s being engineered by Woy and the FA.
That’s a conspiracy theory too far for me, though you can guarantee this whole episode would have been very different had it been Rooney or some Utd player going through it. There’s defo something anti-lfc in the [s]wank offices in Soho and across the media too.
They’ve been uncomfortable with Liverpool ever since Benitez was here and Whiskey nose was conducting them like an orchestra.
HERE’S A CHALLENGE FOR THE ANFIELD WRAP!
You can either comment on things (that’s the easy bit) or report on things (that’s the hard bit!).
So,what do you know about the real issue with Sterling?Did he say that he was too tired to play or did he say that his legs felt a bit tired after training and Hodgson decided not to play him?
I wouldn’t criticise him if he felt he was tightening up in his legs and nor would I feel he was being unpatriotic if he felt he was unable to give his best.
But somewhere along the line here the waters are now being muddied.Some say Sterling simply made a comment that his legs felt tired and others say he asked Hodgson to leave him out.
Come on! This is big stakes.
Can you be the first to give a straight answer?
Why would it be us to do that as opposed to full time journalists whose job it is to cover LFC and matters arising? Most of the people involved have day jobs, when is it we’re supposed to run around establishing to what degree Hodgson is a knobhead?
Sorry Mate,didn’t mean to sound like a smart alec.Just a bit frustrated that everybody in the media seems to follow some sort of party line (no accusation against yourselves).
The talking heads like Shearer come out ignorant of any insight whatsoever and start trotting out the same old bull as the rest of them.Then you get that “thought for the day” philosophy of Scholes?Does he have a view on everything.Or,more importantly,who thinks that we are interested in his views on everything?
Anyway,Sterling has been hung out to dry here.
it’s funny seeing ex utd boys trying to do the pundit thing. They’re all a bit crap at it whereas the lfc guys just slotted in naturally into the role. Reflects the culture of where they plied their trade I reckon. Gary Neville excepted of course. (It’s hilarious how ill suited to tv Phil Neville is though – he must really hate his brother who’s better than him at everything!)
The Utd boys got so used to whiskey nose fighting their battles and clearing the path for them that they don’t know how to do it. The lfc boys are just natural and aren’t trying to push an agenda.
Before the game Hodgson said that Sterling said he was feeling tired. After the game he said Sterling said he didn’t want to play.
The kind of crap you expect from Hodgson, the corporate w*nker.
The irony of all this bullshit being Stirling has had to play too much game time because Sturridge got injured under the guidance of Mr Hodgson.
Hodgson wanted to make an example of Sterling, make sure he copped a load of shite from the media and his followers cos he doesn’t want any player saying he’s tired on England duty. Sterling will certainly think twice before doing it again.
Hodge couldn’t give a sh*t about the players cos anything that limits his options risks having the attention turned on himself. covering his a**.
Also he’ll take any excuse to deflect interrogation of himself and his methods so this was a godsend for him. No talk at all about the lame and very dull performance. Perfect for him.
And to then go on and rubbish our training methods and claim there’s no medical evidence – despite it being exercise physiology 101. And saying they have a good record on injuries despite the fact that he’s sent Sturridge back injured in his last 4 int’l breaks (not including the WC itself) and played him injured too.
But he knows he has an England following and that of some PL clubs’ fans where he worked (the mediocre ones!) and he can say what he likes, so he’s gone for maximum damage on Liverpool and Rodgers.
[He probably sees Rodgers as competition for his job too in that if Rodgers followed Hodgson (which he certainly would if he were sacked from Liverpool) you’d see an immediate improvement in performance and Hodge would immediately be laid bare as total crap that we know he is.]
If players didn’t get tired there would be no need for football to now be a “squad game”. Loved BR press conference today saying he wasn’t going to wait 10 years to see the evidence for individual specific training, LFC were making the evidence. *massive dig at Woy