Why Sensational Sterling Is Football's Next Global Superstar


If Raheem Sterling isn't already England's best player, then who is?

Sterling is clearly the most exhilarating to watch, and the most likely man in Roy Hodgson's number to attract the Galatico gaze of Real Madrid in years to come. Liverpool fans look away, but we all know a £60 million-plus bid is in the cards for their man if he continues on the path he's darting down now.

Sterling is that good, that exciting a prospect. And we shouldn't be afraid of saying so, either. Those who think you can knock a player off course with hyperbole might do well to remember Pele, who I seem to remember won a World Cup at 17 and did fairly well after that.

I've never subscribed to the notion you can ruin a player with praise. Striving to meet ever-growing expectancy is what drives the best footballers to the very summit of their potential; it's the nagging question that draws their answer. Cristiano Ronaldo begins every season wanting to eclipse his achievements in the season before.

Sterling, at 19, is a precocious talent on the precipice and he knows it. He knows what he's capable of now, and he knows that he'll get better with every season his footballing brain develops a better hold on his freakishly fast footballing body. Everything is in place, but now comes the hard part.

We think back to the 17-year-old who dared speak over Brendan Rodgers during a Liverpool training session. It was a clip the club used to promote their 'Being: Liverpool' series and it came across exactly as Rodgers might have wanted it to - as a transparent example of his authority and a very public warning to a player he had high hopes for.

"You say 'steady' to me again when I say something to you, you'll be on the first plane back," Rodgers famously barked. He and every Liverpool fan on the planet are now forever grateful Sterling wasn't tempted, but in truth the issue was put to bed before the players hit the showers that day.

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As outsiders, we're easily led when it comes to forming opinions on footballers. We see so little that the smallest glimpse can paint a picture, and that picture of Sterling - for a while at least - was of an immature player at odds with authority. The word "cocky" was thrown around and the stereotype came easy.

Either Sterling changed in an instant, or we got it wrong, or both. Because the Sterling we see playing for Liverpool and England these days has become the darling of his managers club and country. People are falling over themselves to say good things about him.

"He’s turning into a beautiful young man, with all the responsibility," said Rodgers last month. "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."

Rodgers must take much of the credit. Last season, Sterling matched Luis Suarez for his average number of successful dribbles in the Premier League (2.8). Only Eden Hazard achieved higher (3.8). In a sense we saw a potential unlocked before our eyes, from a player loaded with weapons, given the directions to fire them correctly.

Whatever Rodgers does on the training ground with Sterling, it's working. Hodgson is reaping the reward. With Sterling atop his midfield diamond against Switzerland, the England manager finally had a catalyst capable of sparking the team going forward; a player to set a far bolder tone than the dull, Vuvuzela-esque drone we've become accustomed to in recent years. It's a position Sterling thrives in for Liverpool and one he can own in an England shirt for years to come.

It's no coincidence Jordan Henderson was in there beside him - another Liverpool player Rodgers has upgraded during his time at Anfield. And that's before we've even touched on Daniel Sturridge, who has been re-born on Rodgers' watch and scored 21 Premier League goals last season.

Rodgers isn't just doing good work for Liverpool; he's honing the skills of England's next generation along the way and doing Hodgson a fine service into the bargain.

The Liverpool manager might have been even closer to the England camp had Harry Redknapp been given the job - Redknapp wanted Rodgers as his assistant. As it turns out, Harry's snub and Rodgers' staying at Liverpool could prove a far more effective use of his talents for England.

It could all go wrong, of course, but don't be surprised if Sterling is among the top five players in the world by 2018. As for Rodgers, he'll be England manager proper by then.

Sterling is 5.20 to score first vs Aston Villa this Saturday