Of course his club manager wants to give him lavish praise, and why shouldn’t he? Brendan Rodgers has handled the young phenomenon of Raheem Sterling with accomplished skill, and the Liverpool manager will be astute enough to recognise a player who will respond positively to such public accolade, but with the 19 year old yet to take part in any European fixture, and just a couple of international caps to his name, is Rodgers’ claim a little too ‘out there’ certainly for the moment at least.
It’s certainly true to say that Sterling has been an integral part of the Liverpool success story this season. With Rodgers assembling a forward line of of pace and finesse, the young player has meshed seamlessly with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to form a potent spearhead that has gorged on goals. The club’s current total of 96 means they’re almost certain to hit the century mark, and very likely to go on and break Chelsea’s Premier League goal-scoring record this season. Much of this is down to Sterling’s contribution. Although often overshadowed by the exploits of his attacking colleagues, he has still contributed nine league goals this season, but his record of creating 42 chances in 30 games really emphasises his quality and value to the team.
This of course makes him an outstanding player in the Premier League, and very much deserving of his nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. It would be an insular view to claim much beyond that at this stage of his career. Looking to next season, when Liverpool will claim back their right to compete with Europe’s elite in the Champions League, Sterling will face a new level of test, and whilst there’s no reason to expect he will fall short, it’s difficult to promote him as a success in an arena where he has yet to debut.
Very much the same can be said for the international game, but in a couple of months or so, Sterling will very likely have the chance to address that particular issue. His performances of late, as Liverpool continue a seemingly inevitable charge towards the league title have surely propelled him to the forefront of Three Lions’ manager Roy Hodgson’s thoughts. Not only is the teenager almost certainly on the ‘plane to Brazil, many, myself included, see him as part of the first eleven. Sometimes, a World Cup can come too early in a player’s career, and the level of expectation and pressure can crush, rather than inspire, them. Sterling doesn’t seem to be that type of character, and it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he leaves the tournament with a reputation somewhat larger than the one he took into it.
If pushed to say whether Rodgers’ claim for Sterling to be the best young player in Europe was an understandable overstatement, I’d probably have to say that it was. That said, the defining issue on it may merely be a matter of timing, not lack of accuracy.
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