Liverpool: What Raheem Sterling Has to Do to Progress in 2013/14
Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling made an immediate impact on his full Barclays Premier League debut when he gave the usually sturdy Manchester City defence the run around in the early weeks of the 2012/13 season.
The relatively unknown Sterling, who had not even made the bench for the opening day defeat to West Bromwich Albion just one week earlier, was a surprise name on Brendan Rodgers' team sheet for the visit of the reigning champions.
This was just the first highlight in a season that saw the winger score his first senior goals, earn his first international cap for England and, following reported interest from elsewhere, sign a long-term contract to remain a Liverpool player for the foreseeable future.
Sterling's exploits during the first half of the season led to Rodgers admitting that his young prodigy was suffering from burnout as the Reds' campaign reached its end.
There's no doubting that Sterling showed rapid signs of progress during his first season in and around the first team. However, there is a long way to go and a number of steps to follow to ensure that he does, in fact, reach his enormous potential.
To avoid a repeat of last season's dip in form due to fatigue, Sterling will have to accept that, at such a tender age, he probably won't play every game. It is important that the management, along with the club's medical staff, nurture him in the correct way and that they don't overuse him or rush him back from injury too soon. Liverpool have been there before with Michael Owen, who accused the club of not taking enough care of his body as a teenager, blaming this for a run of injuries later on in his career.
The Reds have been linked with endless amounts of wingers during the summer break, from Porto's Christian Atsu to Willian of Anzhi Makhachkala. It is perhaps testament to the faith that Rodgers has in Sterling that he is yet to strengthen that particular area and has allowed Stewart Downing to join West Ham.
It is up to Sterling to repay this faith by not complaining if he isn't playing every minute of every game, by trusting Rodgers and those around him and by accepting that his manager has his best interests at heart.
Listen & Learn
A lot of young footballers of the modern era think they know it all. That because they drive the flashy cars and wear the most expensive jewellery that they are someone important. Sterling has to stay respectful to those around him. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger who have been there and done it―if he is willing to listen―can help him develop technically and ensure he has the mental toughness needed to not only make it to the top, but to stay there.
There will be no doubt be occasions when Sterling fails to perform, when he has moments where he wishes the ground would open up and swallow him. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gerrard, it happens to the best of them. It is the aforementioned mental toughness that will see him through and that will ensure he can sweep the bad performances under the carpet and go out and perform the following week.
It is imperative that he recognises that certain levels of criticism from managers, fans and the media can sometimes be a good thing. Learning to take any criticism aimed at him on board and use it to his advantage will, without doubt, go some way towards making him a better player.
Stay Out of Trouble
It is vital that he keeps his feet well and truly on the ground. There have already been a number of press reports linking him to a number of unsavoury incidents. Sterling was questioned by police over the alleged assault of a woman in November 2012, and just last week he was again detained after reports he was involved in an altercation with his girlfriend whilst out celebrating her birthday.
Football is awash with youngsters who, after signing a mega-bucks deal and playing just a handful of games, think that they have already "made it." Jermaine Pennant and David Bentley are prime examples.
He is lucky that he has the likes of Gerrard around him, a player who, like Sterling, had the world at his feet and the opportunity to become a star at the age of 18. If Gerrard shows the kind of leadership qualities off the pitch as he does on them then the tricky winger is in good hands.
Although Sterling is his own man and has to take responsibility for his own actions, the club's management and senior players have a role to play in ensuring that he―along with the Reds' other promising youngsters―are looked after and that they are well aware of what is expected from those who represent Liverpool Football Club.
If Sterling adheres to the "Liverpool way," shows the respect to those that are doing their best to aid his development and ensures he is in the newspapers for all the right reasons and on the back pages instead of the front then there is no limit to what this boy can achieve.
It's just a case of how much he really wants it.
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