Such has been the speed of Raheem Sterling’s development since he swapped QPR FC's academy for Liverpool FC three years ago, it is easy to forget that the winger is still only 18.
Sterling, perhaps more than any other young player in recent years, has been a victim of the extraordinary hype which goes hand-in-hand with the discovery of new English talent.
Thirty-six senior appearances and a first senior England cap last year were hailed as the breakthrough of just such a talent. There were comparisons with Arsenal FC’s Theo Walcott, and expectations that Sterling would this season hold down a place in the Liverpool FC first team.
That has not happened, and while it would be an over-reaction to suggest that Sterling’s progress has stalled, there can be no doubt that the teenager needs a spell out of the limelight in order to aid his development.
Indeed, Liverpool FC manager Brendan Rodgers this week delivered a reality check.
“Look at Raheem’s progress and what he’s done in the last year or so,” said Rodgers. “He has propelled himself from a youth team and reserve player to an England player.
“But in the modern game it can be difficult for young players to break through.
“You just have to give them the time and understanding. There are not going to be too many 17 or 18-year-olds ready for the first team, but we want them to be at 20 or 21.”
Sterling is now approaching the pivotal stage of his career. Clearly, he has the attributes to make him a high-quality Premier League player.
There are, however, subtle question-marks over his maturity, and a spell at Rodgers’ former club Swansea FC, as seems likely to happen, offers him the ideal opportunity to hone his style in the shadows under the guidance of Michael Laudrup.
Occasionally – rarely – a young player will emerge from a club’s academy and take Premier League football in his stride. Liverpool FC fans need look no further than Michael Owen, and Jack Wilshere came through the ranks at Arsenal FC to make an immediate impact.
However, there are plenty more examples of young players whose development has been needlessly and disastrously rushed by both club and international managers. Walcott is one, subjected by England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson to the 2006 World Cup at the age of 16, and then missing the 2010 tournament because his development had flat-lined.
Another is John Bostock, who became Tottenham Hotspur's youngest ever player when he made his debut in the Uefa Cup in November 2008, but who five years later plies his trade at Belgian second-tier side Royal Antwerp. Others, the likes of Kieron Dyer, Francis Jeffers and Jermaine Pennant, never scaled the heights expected after breaking through.
If Sterling is not to join that list, then Rodgers, who gained such experience while working at Chelsea FC's academy, must continue to treat him with care.
image: © bernard-chan