Raheem Sterling lacks the confidence and experience of regular game time, looking afraid of his own shadow at times when he gets a game.
I’m writing this on Sunday 9th February, two months have passed since then and Liverpool fans are basking in the glory of a magnificent 5-1 demolition of the then league leaders Arsenal. Central to this victory was a certain Raheem Sterling, scorer of two goals, unlucky not to get a hattrick and the deserved recipient of the Man of the Match award. He tormented the hapless Arsenal defence all afternoon, his electric turn of pace even blowing away the rapid Kieran Gibbs, playing with the confidence of a man who is starting to knuckle down and realise his true potential. So what has changed in just two months?
Sterling has suddenly become a key player, making the starting XI on a regular basis , which is exactly what I thought his development needed. He’s responded in some fashion, terrifying defences with a more positive approach which has resulted in him scoring and creating goals in addition to winning 3 penalties. At the age of 19, he’s no longer a potential star but a genuine threat to opposition defences. The words of the man himself show exactly how regular football has improved his game;
I had to be more confident. I wasn’t confident enough to have a shot myself and instead I’d pass it to someone like [Luis] Suarez. I just said to myself that I had to step up and start running at defenders again; taking responsibility.”
I’ve also had the chance to do that week in, week out. I can feel a bit of momentum now.
My agent knows me as well as anyone else; he knows my game, and he asked the club for a couple of DVDs from last season when I’d played well. He wanted to show me the difference. Last season, I’d have beaten a man in two touches and raced away.
Suddenly, I was going safe; passing to someone else. I didn’t realise I was doing it. I needed to be more confident. You have to respect the senior players around you but you have to stamp your own mark on the game.
Although Raheem is the butt of many (false) Twitter rumours, he does seem to have finally settled down and appears to be at home in the North West. In his recent MOTD interview he came across very well and you can’t help but feel that Brendan Rodgers has been a key factor in all of this. The big question is can he break into the England squad in time for the World Cup?
In my opinion, with Theo Walcott expected to miss the tournament in Brazil, Raheem has a great chance of being on that plane. He has many things in his favour which may sway Roy Hodgson. He is undoubtedly the form wide playing Englishman in the Premier League, alongside perhaps Adam Johnson. Last year’s great hope Andros Townsend seems to have lost his way amidst all the overnight adulation, whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is playing more centrally. Raheem is a player Hodgson knows well and with his club captain Stevie Gerrard also captaining the England team, he has someone to guide him through the experience.
Sterling can also play anywhere across the pitch, combining frightening pace and skill with an eye for goal. He also works his ass off defensively and has worked hard on his physical strength this season. His only weakness is perhaps his final ball, but that will improve also. Just think of a front 3 of Rooney, Sturridge and Sterling, with Rooney playing the Suarez role. Suddenly England’s attack looks extremely threatening. For that reason alone, surely Raheem deserves a place on the squad.