Mark my words, Raheem Sterling is the real deal. If you are a Manchester United supporter or a non Liverpool supporter for that matter, then I wouldn’t blame you for tuning out, as I indulge myself by fawning over the precocious talents of Raheem Sterling during the next few paragraphs.
However, I would hasten to add that, don’t say I didn’t warn you when Sterling ends up wreaking havoc over your team the next time he comes up against them.
At what point is it socially acceptable within the footballing fraternity to say a player has made it, and is indeed the real deal? What do they need to have achieved? At what point is it no longer just premature hysterics?
All the fuss regarding Raheem Sterling will not have come as too much of a surprise to those who have been following his progress prior to Brendan Rodgers giving him his chance this season. Many Liverpool supporters will have been aware of the name Sterling for some time now, and the recognition Sterling is now receiving is vindication for the early hope heaped upon him.
Normally though, when it comes to judging the next big talent, I resist waxing poetically about a players ability until they have really proven themselves consistently over at least a couple of seasons. Sometimes even longer, depending on many starts they are making in the first team.
During such time they will need to have made a significant contribution which has been of a notable benefit to the team. Has the team improved as a whole by the players inclusion?
Judging over a two year period will usually weed out the flashes in the pan, the Federico Macheda’s of the world. A primitive but general rule of thumb. One which I am sure could go into more detail and is probably far from perfect.
This rule was initially the position I was taking on the 17 year old Sterling. He had been receiving plenty of praise since the start of the season from many quarters, which ultimately resulted in him getting a call up to the senior England squad for the friendly against Sweden.
A game I missed, (but yes, I have seen that goal) and despite England losing 4-2, from all accounts Sterling performed admirably, doing his future England prospects no harm.
The reason for breaking my own code when it comes to judging a player and becoming giddy with excitement, came last Saturday when Liverpool hosted Wigan at Anfield.
Sterling had made a relatively quiet start to the game, and my mind had already begun to be filled with swirls of fear and worry that dreaded burnout symptoms were beginning to surface. Something I still worry about for a 17 year, especially given Liverpool’s lack of cover up front.
But in the second half Liverpool came to life, exemplified by Stirling’s anticipation of a short pass back to a Wigan defender which he exploited with his searing pace. With still plenty to do, Sterling then had the presence of mind to drive towards the box and pick out a pass to Suarez who converted beyond Al Habsi in goal to open the scoring.
As a whole, this particular passage of play was obviously very impressive, but the basis of my epiphany comes from a specific component of the move that created the goal. It was not Sterling’s anticipation to jink pass the hesitant defender, his searing pace or the simple fact that he didn’t fluff his lines by blasting into the side netting which many a youngster would have done.
No. It was the cut back. But more specifically the way in which the cutback was executed, that made me sit up and take notice.
You could argue that there are plenty of promising players who could do what Sterling did to create the goal. However, the difference that I am singling out, which I believe shows there is greatness behind the talent, is the way in which Sterling made the pass to Suarez.
If you watch the video replay of Sterlings cut back from the right angle, pay special attention to his eyes. As he makes the pass he is looking at the defender or the opposition goal, and for a fraction of a second not the recipient Suarez. A no-look pass which when executed successfully adds an extra element of uncertainty to the opposition, and potentially makes it simple for the scorer.
To pull off such a pass especially when there is such risk given the potential for a goal scoring opportunity, requires not only talent, but also a healthy dose of dare I say arrogance. A trait all top players have. An innate ability to pull off the more daring, the more adventurous, while still maintaining poise and composure.
After Suarez pinged the pass from Sterling into the roof of the net, Gary Caldwell’s reaction sums it up best. A seasoned senior player reduced to punching the ground in frustrations by the skill of a 17 year old. Okay, perhaps I over embellish a tad here, given that Caldwell could simply be frustrated with conceding in general.
However, its worth noting that Caldwell is dragged away from initially marking Suarez when Sterling still has the ball at his feet prior to the pass. I guess only he will know the true source of the frustration.
Of course there will be plenty of obstacles and temptations for Sterling to overcome to truly become a top player. The offer of a big contract looms large, as will the distractions that the money will bring. Quite how you motivate a teenager who will soon be earning more than many could even dream of will be something Brendan Rodgers will have to navigate.
His manager will need to also hope he can steer him away from trouble off the pitch that the fame will inevitably bring. Only a couple of days ago he was being questioned by police in relation to an assault of a women.
Whatever the future may bring, within Sterling I am now convinced there is already a great talent. He will, however, need to marry his gift with all the other trials and tribulations that come with being a modern day footballer if he is to realise his full potential. Only then will my indulgences hopefully be justified and perhaps forgiven.