In what has been an exciting and promising start to a Premier League season, one player has broken to the forefront of the minds of fans and managers alike with a series of impressive performances culminating in an England cap.
His name is Raheem Sterling – and he’s only 17 years old.
Sterling has long been thought to be heading to the top; his talents were evident from a young age – by 10 he was in the QPR youth academy. By 14, he was on the front cover of Jamaica’s national newspaper, and had scouts from Fulham, Liverpool and Arsenal salivating at the thought of bringing him to their respective clubs.
When he signed for Liverpool in 2010, it was clear that he wasn’t going to be in the youth team for long.
Sterling has really impressed this season, with his dazzling pace and footwork coupled by an excellent perception of space and an ability to find an incisive final ball. This has led him to make a succession of first team appearances, and following a promising performance in England’s defeat to Sweden midweek, the Jamaican born player could soon be a regular for England too.
However, all of this talent comes with a warning; if Liverpool manage to hold onto the gem that they have unearthed, they must treat him carefully and play him sparingly. When real young talents burst to the foreground and play beyond their years, it is easy to forget that they are essentially still children – and overplaying them at what is still a developmental phase can have seriously detrimental effects on their long term career.
Take for example Jack Wilshere; he broke into the Arsenal line-up at the age of sixteen and has been highlighted as the outstanding talent of his generation, but his playing every game for England and the Gunners had a negative effect. What should have been a short term injury put him out of action for roughly a year, and whilst he is now back to playing at his best, by being overplayed he wasted time in the long run.
Likewise, Michael Owen’s injury woes could probably have been diminished had he not been quite such a pivotal figure for club and country as a teenager – if Liverpool want to keep Sterling moving forwards, they have to be responsible.
Raheem Sterling could develop into a truly brilliant player – but if he is overplayed at this stage, he could be a brilliant player marred by injury. Liverpool and England must be careful.