Raheem Sterling’s dip in form and reduced game-time was only to be expected according to Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Sterling, 18, burst onto the scene at Anfield earlier this season just aged 17, after some magnificent performances Sterling earned rave reviews and even picked up his first England cap, making him the fifth youngest player to do so.
However, after starting the majority of games during the first half of the season, Sterling’s contribution has been reduced of late and he hasn’t been included in the starting eleven since Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester United in January; last being seen in the under-21s on Monday night.
Rodgers has been quick to defend and praise Sterling for his contribution this season though: “This is a kid we’re talking about so we have to take a wee step back.
“It is so mentally and physically draining this league. It hurts experienced professionals and this boy has just stepped up from the Academy and played first-team football and earned a contract of that. We have to nurture that and at times he’s got to have that mentality to keep learning.
“I was talking to him the other day about this, and if he didn’t kick another ball this season he’s had a good one. It’s a very physically demanding league and what you’re seeing now is more tiredness of the legs when before he could go up to people and take them on.
"That zip has gone and that’s down to fatigue. Was that to be expected? Yes it was. He will have experienced that before but not in the limelight like it is now. He’s made such an impact that everyone is looking at him now. But the job is to nurture him.”
Sterling has a very bright future ahead of him and Liverpool will be very keen to ensure their young star keeps his feet firmly on the ground. They can ill afford to over play Sterling, as often when clubs do this to players of his age, it can harm their career in future years.
The perfect example for this is Michael Owen. He also made his debut for Liverpool at the age of 17 and quickly became a first team regular at Anfield, but after sustaining a serious hamstring injury against Leeds Utd back in 1999, Owen has been plagued by injuries ever since.
Playing only 37 league games in the last four seasons, Owen blames playing too much when he was younger for all his injuries. When asked in an interview, in April 2012 if paying too much when he was younger was to blame for all his later setbacks, he responded “God, b----- hell, yeah.”
He added: "When Gérard Houllier was saying I couldn’t play every game, I’d say I’ll rest when I’m 30. He was probably right, wasn’t he? You want to play in every game. I was always the best player at every age since I was seven.
"I was in every youth tournament, playing for England Under-18s when I was 15, for the county under-11s when I was seven, always playing above my age.
“Steven Gerrard benefited when we were breaking through because, although he was phenomenal at 14, he couldn’t stay fit. That was the biggest blessing in disguise for him for a longer career at the top without massive injuries. I was ready-made to play a higher level when I was young but I paid the price.”
It appears to us as though modern football is wising up to 'mistakes of the past' which now Stoke City part-timer Owen is a shining example of. Brendan Rodgers is acting responsibly over Sterling and surely that should be commended.
Do you think Liverpool are doing right by Sterling? Or do you think he should still be in the team?
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image: © bernard-chan