Brendan Rodgers has urged the talented teenage attacker to focus on the opportunity at hand at Anfield.
Raheem Sterling broke into the Liverpool first-team in exciting fashion at the start of last season, justifying the hype surrounding him with some exhilarating performances in the fledgling days of his young career.
However, things have stagnated for the 18-year-old winger over the last six months, with Sterling struggling to command a place in the Reds’ first-team and finding himself in trouble with the law.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted that Sterling is part of his plans, but has urged the teenager to appreciate the opportunity he has and to focus on improving as a player.
“He needs to have a clear mind in everything in his life,” said Rodgers.
“We mustn’t forget he is 18. We have an 18- and 17-year-old on the bench at the moment. He needs to stabilise his life, understand the remarkable opportunity he has at one of the biggest clubs in the world and focus everything on his career.
“Once he does that and he is clear in his mind, he has no distraction and we can get to the level of performance of the first four or five months of last year.”
Sterling was in court last week accused of assault, but the charges against him were dropped. With the 18-year-old also falling afoul of driving offences, it is clear that he has had a lot on his plate recently.
The teenager has been accredited as one of the brightest prospects in English football, but has gone off the ball slightly of late. He was adjudged to be an important man in Liverpool’s venture to win a place back in the Premier League’s top four while also made his senior England debut last season.
However, since Sterling catapulted himself into the limelight at the start of last season, Liverpool have evolved into a more-rounded side with stronger attacking options for Rodgers to select from.
Daniel Sturridge, Iago Aspas, Philippe Coutinho, Luis Alberto and Victor Moses have all joined the Liverpool squad since the start of the year, and as such competition for starting berths in the forward line is fierce.
There are also rumblings that Rodgers could well be tempted to switch to 3-5-2, a formation he played against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night. If this is the case consistently, it nullifies the need for wingers and as such it will be more difficult for Sterling to command a place in the side.
The teenage sensation would then need to adjust to a new position at either left wing-back or a central role behind the Reds’ strikers, which would take time to do.
Clearly Sterling has the ability and potential to be a top player, but needs time on the pitch to grow. Only when he gets his affairs in order off the pitch will Rodgers feel that he can start to trust the youngster on it.
image: © bernard-chan