Raheem Sterling has proven himself one of the top attacking players in the Premier League already, but can he really become as good as Messi?
Earlier this week Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers compared his young wing wizard Raheem Sterling to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi - pretty big words most people would agree - but how does Sterling compare to the Argentine at the age of 19?
Rodgers has clearly been impressed with the former QPR youth since he returned from World Cup duty, comparing his goal in the penalty shootout win over Manchester City during the recent tour of the US to the kind of goals the Barca icon manages.
“When you look at that goal he scored against Manchester City in New York – and the finish – how many times have we seen Messi produce a touch like that?” said Rodgers. “Taking it through bodies when it’s so tight in the box? Raheem’s feet were so soft and his finish was great.
“For teams to have that fear of him as a young player shows his development. There is still work for him to do, but he knows that and is a really good boy who is developing really well tactically and technically.
“He’s taking it all in his stride and now he’s in a good place with every part of his game. It’s just about maintaining that commitment to his work. He’s still only 19, but in big games he’s performed and he’s a wonderful talent.”
Looking at the statistics of both players, and particularly the goal ratios considering Rodgers mentioned the similarity in the kinds of goals they score, indicates that their career path has been a little more similar than you'd imagine.
Sterling's 2012-13 breakthrough season, where he was 17-years-old at the start of the campaign, saw him make 36 substitute appearances and score 2 goals, featuring mainly from the bench. The next year, the season just finished, saw the England winger really up his game, especially from December onwards, ending with 10 goals in 26 games from that month until May (10 in 34 overall).
By comparison, Messi made his first substantial contribution in 2005-06, having just turned 18-years-old. The four time Ballon d'Or winner scored 8 goals in 25 games across the season, to really announce his coming. Arguably, Messi coming into the Barcelona team at that age was a bigger task considering they were the best team in the world at the time. Sterling on the other hand played a big part in bringing Liverpool back where they deserved to be near the Premier League summit. Messi's 2006-07 season saw him go up another level, with him scoring 17 goals in 36 games, just over one every two matches. He had similar figures the year after, but it was as a 21-year-old, in the season that started in 2008, that he registered himself as one of the best players in the world by scoring a huge 38 goals from in 51 games.
One area Sterling hasn't come close to Messi is in his international achievements. Messi had made 12 appearances and scored twice for Argentina moving into the year he would turn 20-years-old, a year where he would score 6 times in 14 games for his country. Sterling has just five appearances for England with no goals.
It is feasible for Sterling to edge further along the path Messi has trodden, by getting anywhere near 15 goals this season and the next, and it will be as he reaches 21 and 22, that will demonstrate just what level he may find himself at.