For men, your teenage years are never the easiest.
There are girls, pressures and expectations. There’s running out at Anfield every other week in front of over 40,000 passionate supporters who are looking upon you as their great saviour and a talent who will drag their team back towards the summit of the English game. There’s acne.
Okay, maybe one of the elements of teenage life on that list only applies to one teenager in particular, a special teenager whose progress this season has been clear for all to see.
Raheem Sterling has been the young face of the Premier League this season. No other team has placed this much faith and given this much prominence to a player who only turned 18 this month.
The simple truth is that Liverpool and boss Brendan Rodgers have had to place this trust in Sterling. Transfer mistakes and a lack of attacking options have made it simply impossible to ignore a player who has now played the full 90 minutes in all but three of the club’s Premier League games this season, made more appearances in all competitions than any other Reds player and also made his full England debut. He wouldn’t have thought that was possible at the beginning of the campaign. No one at Liverpool would.
Sterling has been growing up in the spotlight.
Still protected from doing interviews by his club―he’s only just old enough to drink man of the match champagne anyway―the winger still retains that air of mystery and promise that always surrounds a young player when they burst on to the scene. Michael Owen had that. Wayne Rooney had it, too, and the comparison with both players is certainly an apt one.
When Owen broke through the ranks at Liverpool, there was never any doubt that he was going to stick around at the club. He was in the best place to aid his development and win trophies, and he managed to put an FA Cup (which he almost won single-handedly), two League Cups and a UEFA Cup on his CV before leaving for Real Madrid just before the Reds won the Champions League.
Rooney’s rise through the ranks at Everton and subsequent burst into the England team was a little different. He quickly outgrew the club and always seemed destined to move on to bigger and better things at another, superior side. It is a measure of how far that Liverpool have fallen in recent years that the prospect of Sterling doing the same has become a real worry.
Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal have all been linked with moves for Sterling in recent weeks as his contract situation has become headline news, but the winger can surely see that he needs Liverpool as much as Liverpool need him right now.
A move to a team further up the league ladder would undoubtedly see Sterling’s playing time reduced, and although that may well happen at Liverpool in the new year once Rodgers brings in the additional two or three attacking players that his team sorely needs, that could conversely act as a benefit to a young player who is facing a risk of burnout given the amount of matches he has played in a short space of time.
Rodgers has always remained confident that Sterling will be tied down to a long-term contract (LiverpoolFC.com)―his first contract as a full professional―and so with the noises coming out of Liverpool all being positive ones it would be a huge surprise to see the winger end up at another team in January.
Liverpool might even give their fans an early Christmas present with the news that they’ve all been waiting for, and whilst money issues are always prevalent whenever a young player bursts onto the scene and is treated as a commodity, Sterling should realise that he is in the best place possible for his career to develop.
His teenage years might be proving to be exciting ones, but it is the years to come which should really whet supporters’ appetites.
Years which should be spent at Anfield.