Raheem Sterling needs nurturing, not adulation
Calm down, calm down. No offence intended, Liverpool fans, given the fact the phrase summons images of bubble-permed Scouse caricatures, but someone has to get a grip. Raheem Sterling needs to be nurtured, not given the boyband treatment.
On the strength of two compelling performances against Hearts and Manchester City, Sterling is already being touted as the next big thing. Stuart Pearce is being urged to include the Liverpool winger in his England Under-21 squad for the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Norway.
This is where Liverpool will discover the hidden benefits of having hired Brendan Rodgers, a manager well schooled in youth development. The recruitment and production of young players was one of the key elements of the 180-page dossier he presented to the club’s owners before the start of the season.
Outstanding prospects such as Sterling are feted and fawned over when they are barely in their teens. Agents fight for fresh meat. It is a world of easy praise, seductive shortcuts and cunningly disguised danger. Only the strong and the sensible survive.
Rodgers, whose formative years were spent coaching within Chelsea’s youth system, understands their mentality. He knows a rare, raw talent like Sterling requires sensitive handling. That does not preclude a harsh word to maintain standards and develop self-discipline. His dressing down, captured in a preview clip for Liverpool’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, was measured, yet cutting.
It is easy to forget Sterling is only 17. I first saw him, playing one-on-one in a park in Watford, two years ago. His joy with a ball at his feet gave him a strange radiance. He is outrageously talented, but uniquely vulnerable. Liverpool have a duty of care to him and his family. He still has an awful lot of growing up to do.
Thankfully, Rodgers sees the bigger picture. He will doubtless rotate him, and do his most valuable work with him, unseen, on the training ground at Melwood. The temptation to give the Liverpool fans what they want will be immense because the sense of excitement is infectious.
As Rodgers says: “Young players will run through a barbed wire fence for you. Older players will look for the hole or just turn back and not even go through it. We just have to make sure that we keep the pressure off Raheem.”
Easier said than done, but essential.
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