After his nomination as February's Barclays Premier League Player of the Month it is only right we trace and reflect on Raheem Sterling's journey to this point thus far.
Liverpool’s vast improvement in the league this season has coincided with an upturn in the performance of Raheem Sterling who appears to be well on his way to fulfilling his great promise.
After exploding onto the first-team scene in 2012, the winger suffered a dip in form towards the end of last season.
Such is Sterling’s prodigious talent it became easy in the midst of criticism to forget he was only 18 and that young players are typically inconsistent.
The current campaign has seen him return to prominence however as Liverpool make much more than just a concerted effort to secure a UEFA Champions League spot.
Lethal counter-attacks have been a feature of the Reds’ goals and key to that has been Sterling’s pace on the break.
Having once been merely a direct and fast footballer, he is now something much more. He has added intelligence to his game, from finding space through clever movement to picking out the right pass in the final third.
Perhaps most impressive about Sterling’s development has been the increase in his physical strength and ability to shield the ball despite possessing only a small frame.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers even went so far as to describe his charge as a ‘man of steel’ following Sterling’s magnificent performance in the 4-0 Merseyside derby win over Everton in January.
“He’s one of the strongest players I’ve ever known — that’s what people find remarkable,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“I don’t think he’s got bones in his body, it’s like he’s made of steel. He has an incredible physique for a young guy.”
Sterling was signed from Queens Park Rangers’ academy in February 2010 by Rafael Benitez for an initial fee of GBP 600,000.
He subsequently made his first appearance for the first team in a pre-season friendly against Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany in August 2010.
Sterling’s rapid rise to stardom was capped off when he made his senior debut for England in November 2012, aged just 17, starting in a friendly away to Sweden.
Unlike most players to have represented the Three Lions, Sterling was not born in England, having emigrated with his mother to London from Kingston, Jamaica, at the age of five.
As a result he was initially only eligible to represent Jamaica at the international level.
It was not until September 2009 that FIFA agreed to the proposals by the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Football Associations to update the ‘home nations agreement’, allowing players who were educated in a country for five years or more to be eligible for their national team.
Sterling first represented England at under-16 level in November 2009 in a match against Northern Ireland. Yet when speaking of the possibility of playing for Jamaica at the time, Sterling said: “When it comes to that decision, that is when I will decide, but if Jamaica calls for me, why not?”
In October 2012 Sterling scored his first senior competitive goal and two months later had signed a contract extension committing his long-term future to Liverpool.
After putting pen to paper on the deal, he told Liverpool's official website:
“It’s every 18-year-old’s dream. I’m just really grateful to be at such a big club like this.
“Hopefully I can try to do my best for the team and the football club. There’s a lot more to be done. I haven’t begun yet, as the manager has said.”
More than a year on, the boy from the Caribbean can hold his head high as he realises those ambitions and with it the potential added bonus of a league title and a place at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil later this year.
NAME: Raheem Sterling
INTERNATIONAL CAPS: 2
INTERNATIONAL GOALS: 0
MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Making his senior debut for England against Sweden in November 2012.
MOMENT TO FORGET: Coming on as a late substitute for England Under-21s in Serbia to witness a mass brawl between opposing players and staff as well as racist chanting from home supporters.