Raheem Sterling: The next John Barnes... or Kieran Richardson

He may be just 18, but Raheem Sterling's future at Liverpool could be considered at a crossroads, and it is up to him to make sure it heads in the right direction.

Raheem Sterling's path to becoming a footballing superstar seemed unstoppable. The whizkid was signed by Liverpool from QPR in 2010, and went onto make headlines when he scored five goals in an FA Youth Cup game.

Kenny Dalglish relented to growing pressure and handed the winger his Premier League debut in 2012, and the player didn't look back.

He became a first team regular under Brendan Rodgers, and Roy Hodgson handed him a first international cap. 

12 months on and the prospects of Sterling making the plane to Brazil for next year's World Cup look bleak. How did this happen?

Brendan Rodgers saw at the end of 2012 that the winger was looking burnt out, and decided to rest him. After watching him in the under-21s it was clear his 'zip' didn't return and that was largely where he has remained since.

He was recalled for a first Premier League start of the season against Hull at the weekend, but was subsituted off, having made just 13 passes, that was seven less than goalkeeper Simon Mignolet,

Now there is talk of Sterling heading out on loan in January for the sake of his development, but if he doesn't kick on then there is a chance he may be on an irreversible downward slope.

All of this may seem crazy for a player hailed as the next big thing, but his form combined with a series of off-field 'distractions' does not make a recipe for distress.

Sterling has been hailed as the next John Barnes due to his tricky wing skill and Jamaican heritage, but his career situation and personal life brings comparison to former Manchester United youngster Kieran Richardson.

Richardson is now a Premier League veteran of 200 plus appearances, but it could be argued his career peaked in 2005 when just 20-years-old.

He had just impressed on loan with West Brom, and scored twice on his debut for England before heading back to Manchester United. 

Roy Keane infamously lamented the youngster's cocky attitude and flash cars, and it was just two seasons before the winger was sold to Sunderland, United giving up on him.

Despite carving out a solid career since, he has never lived up to the hype bestowed on him at a young age, when he helped lead United to an FA Youth Cup win in 2003.

Raheem Sterling has time on his side. He was ahead of schedule in his development in the first place, and so a season or two learning his trade won't hurt, so long as he keeps the right attitude and shows forward progress.

Liverpool like United aspire to be the best, and if he is not moving in the right direction, he could just get cut adrift by Liverpool in a season or two in favour of the next big thing.

image: © bernard-chan

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