Liverpool's Raheem Sterling Needs to Handle Pressure of Being England Golden Boy

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Liverpool's Raheem Sterling Needs to Handle Pressure of Being England Golden Boy
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England are out of the World Cup, albeit with the lowest of low-key games to play on Tuesday, and so whilst the post-mortem rages around the country, the longer-term lessons will be somewhat ignored for now.

It could be, however, that when this tournament is examined in the weeks and months to come, England will decide that it was their encouraging if somewhat naive performance in defeat to Italy which serves as a reference point for the future.

They were quite impressive for some of it, after all.

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Chief amongst those impressing was Raheem Sterling, with Roy Hodgson allowing the 19-year-old the freedom of the No. 10 role he so enjoyed in the latter months of Liverpool's season.

Hodgson was to curiously take away that freedom for the Uruguay game, despite the plaudits for Sterling's display in Manaus, but come August when the Premier League begins again and the summer in Brazil seems a long time ago, which game do you think people will choose to remember?

It'll be the Italy one, and so Sterling will be a marked man.

The teenager has already experienced two rapid rises in his career, but he's about to realise that the third dwarfs the others by comparison.

Whereas the first saw him thrust into the Liverpool team as a 17-year-old at the beginning of the 2012/13 campaign, then the second led to him being arguably the key figure in a team chasing the Premier League title, he's now going to start the new season as one of the star men of the division, regardless of nationality.

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That being said, Sterling's displays both against Italy and at the end of Liverpool's campaign—but largely against Italy—have led to the almost inevitable link with Real Madrid, with the Daily Mirror citing Spanish source Fichajes.net's claim that the European champions see him as a replacement for Angel di Maria.

You can take that one with enough pinches of salt to fill the River Mersey, but what is clear is that as he prepares for a first season of Champions League football, Sterling's star is rapidly on the rise.

That will bring with it new pressures, both on and off the field, and Liverpool will need to handle their young hope with care as he returns to their fold.

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Although he didn't make as much of an impact at the tournament, the hype surrounding Sterling's display against Italy could perhaps be compared to the buzz around Michael Owen post-France '98.

Back then, the teenage forward returned to the Reds and scored 23 goals to end the campaign as the club's top scorer, although the vultures from other clubs were circling for much of that time.

Lazio were persistently linked with him—with stories such as this one in Sports Illustrated becoming commonplace—but there was never any real indication he'd leave.

The same will probably be true of Sterling, and fortunately for the teenager, he's got a club manager who will be able to guide him with care and attention. You get the feeling that he wouldn't be in this position in the first place if he didn't.

Brendan Rodgers will now be doing everything he can to manage the expectations around a footballer who has had a quite staggering six months. He'll try and take him out of the limelight, perhaps frequently turning to Philippe Coutinho or Jordon Ibe or a new signing.

Regardless of that, though, Sterling's will suddenly be the face you see staring back at you from billboards or on television screens. He is a good story. A kid who could have become a teenage tearaway but is instead starring for Liverpool and England.

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The Three Lions will look to him to inspire the new generation of players that they seemingly call for after every single tournament failure, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and maybe even Wayne Rooney fading into background.

Taking all of that on what are still remarkably young shoulders will be a huge task for a player who won't hit his 20s until December.

Sterling plays as though nothing fazes him, though. Not Anfield, not a title challenge, not Andrea Pirlo.

Maintaining that enthusiasm and vigour will now be crucial as he approaches an even greater level of fame, but if there's anyone who can do it, then it's a kid without a care in the world.

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