Eyebrows were raised when Raheem Sterling was called straight into the senior England squad this week, and no wonder. It might just be the most fascinating move that Roy Hodgson has made in years. Sterling is as raw as steak tartare. He’s less a footballer and more a springer spaniel, clattering after the ball with his ears turning inside-out in the wind. He is not exactly how you’d picture a Hodgson player. Perhaps then, the future is not as bleak as we suspected.
Sterling is, for want of a better word, fun. He gets the ball, he runs with the ball. He doesn’t hide from his marker, he doesn’t turn inside and make the easy pass. The only thing Sterling makes is eye contact. He stares into the very soul of his opponent and puts to them a question to which they have no answer. ‘How on earth do you think you are going to stop me?’ You have to feel sorry for them really. Trying to stop Sterling is like trying to catch a fart in a net.
If there is a loser here, of course, it’s Brendan Rodgers. Last week, the new Liverpool manager publicly begged England not to pick 17 year old Sterling for the U21 squad. He got his wish, but perhaps he should have been more specific. Rodgers is concerned that Sterling’s sudden elevation to the big time will blow his mind, and he has every reason to be. After all, if Sterling celebrates his England call-up the same way that he is alleged to have celebrated his first professional contract, there’s going to be a noticeable spike in the population graphs for Merseyside.
And then there’s the question of his attitude. During the pre-season tour of the United States this summer, the Jamaican-born winger decided to respond to a group-rollocking from Rodgers by repeatedly saying ‘steady’ to his new manager. Rodgers’ uncompromising response came in the shape of the clip that Fox TV are using to plug their ‘Being Liverpool’ fly-on-the-wall show.
“You say steady to me again when I say something to you,” growled Rodgers, “and you’ll be on the first plane back.”
But what does this mean for Hodgson? This is a manager who would rather play James Milner on the right than Theo Walcott because, in defensive terms, Milner keeps the flank in a permanent state of lockdown while Walcott scampers out in his pyjamas leaving all the doors and windows open.
Well, funnily enough, Sterling seems quite disciplined in this area. Against Manchester City last month, he kept Milner quiet while still making time to give Kolo Toure the biggest fright since he read the small print on that bottle of dietary pills. Mind you, how much of that was tactical nous and how much was liquid adrenaline coursing through Sterling's veins like rocket fuel remains to be seen.
What’s rather more important is that Hodgson is actually looking to the future. His assertion that he wouldn’t be dropping any of the senior players was not exactly in step with the general public who, after another underwhelming summer, wanted them dropped into disused mineshafts with poor mobile phone signals.
Sterling, in all likelihood, will play no part in today’s clash with Ukraine, but the very fact that he is there is deeply pleasing, an emotion very rarely invoked by the England team. I like having someone there who can dribble. I like that it isn’t Stewart Downing. I like the fact that Hodgson is casting his eye over someone fun. Maybe, we’ve all been a little too harsh on him.
Read more musings from Iain Macintosh HERE.
Read our expert preview of England v Ukraine HERE.
Read about more shock England call-ups HERE.