Is Raheem Sterling the best teenage footballer in the world?

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Still only 19, Raheem Sterling is displaying immense talent and has Andrew Cussen predicting an extremely bright future.

NEW YORK, USA - Wednesday, July 30, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the second goal against Manchester City during the International Champions Cup Group B match at the Yankee Stadium on day ten of the club's USA Tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Hang on,” I hear you say, “he’s still a teenager?” Yes he is. Raheem Sterling will celebrate his 20th birthday in December this year and he’s already a phenomenally gifted footballer.

But unlike so many players blessed with such staggering raw ability, he has supplemented his innate talents with dedication on the training pitch and a tactical understanding of the game that belies his tender years.

Undeterred by being dropped by manager Brendan Rodgers on occasion, Sterling has refined his game and become a more rounded player, to the point where he can fill any position in the attacking third of the pitch. Right and left wing? Check. Number ten? Check. Number nine? He’d do a job there too.

Rodgers expressed his confidence in Sterling’s understanding of the tactical side of the game after Liverpool’s friendly loss to Man United in Miami, where Sterling had starred and caused no end of problems for the United defence.

“Raheem is tactically aware for such a young player and is so exciting to watch. When he runs at defenders he creates many opportunities.”

Sterling’s always been touted as a special player since his move from the academy of Queens Park Rangers to Liverpool’s youth setup in February of 2010.

In a space of just over two years when he starred in the early months of Rodgers’ reign, he has gone from a promising yet frustratingly inconsistent winger to a gem of a player, delivering performances that captivate the hearts and minds of the Anfield faithful every week.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 31, 2012: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and Raheem Sterling during the Football League Cup 4th Round match against Swansea City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But now comes a crossroads for the young man born in Jamaica. Does he continue to grow and develop as a player, reaching stratospheric levels of performance or does he rest on his laurels and enjoy the security of a contract that runs until 2018? Most definitely the former.

“At 19 years of age he is a real talent and is getting better all the time,” said Rodgers recently.

 

Attributes

Sterling is not your average winger with pace and a few stopovers to boot. He possesses a frankly unfair amount of strength for someone of his size – pound for pound the strongest player in the Liverpool squad – and a technical ability of the highest order which allows him to execute the seemingly impossible while utilising his ferocious pace to full effect. Hours of time on the training ground have led to him becoming more in tune with his team mates and a devastating finisher of chances.

All of which, when allied with Sterling’s thirst for success and unwavering mental strength, make for a player who will only continue to grow. He is the most talented Englishman to emerge for years and despite suffering the occasional poor run of form or frustrating injury, he has scored 12 goals and created 15 assists in 77 appearances for Liverpool. That’s absolutely absurd for someone not old enough to rent a car.

Ten goals and nine assists came from his boots last season and with the departure of Luis Suarez combined with the likely tactical reshaping of the team, Sterling is set to explode in the upcoming campaign. A more influential role awaits this term with his successful deployment as a number ten last campaign and his teammates now look to him to create chances and dictate tempo.

He took apart the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and both Manchester Clubs last season and he now has his eyes set on Europe with Liverpool’s return to the Champions League. Watching Sterling cutting swathes through some of Europe’s most expensive defences is a thought that leaves every Liverpool fans barely able to contain themselves, and rightly so. The kid is unquestionably brilliant.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 20, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the third goal against Norwich City during the Premiership match at Carrow Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Future

This season we can expect Sterling to push on, and with a deeper squad at Rodgers’ disposal, rotation will ensure that the likes of Sterling, Sturridge and Coutinho remain mentally and physically fresh for the big matches. ‘Football is 90% mental’ as the classic saying goes. Never has that phrase been more true than when applied to this Liverpool team, who play with a speed of thought that simply can’t be matched when on song, leaving the opposition tackling thin air and utterly bewildered.

Sterling himself has spoke of his desire to find the net more regularly after developing a taste for goals last season

“Of course, I’ve got my own personal plans and goals for this season – the main one being to improve my goals-per-game ratio,” Sterling said after Liverpool’s friendly with Manchester City in New York.

NEW YORK, USA - Wednesday, July 30, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling scores the second goal against Manchester City during the International Champions Cup Group B match at the Yankee Stadium on day ten of the club's USA Tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Sterling went on to say that he wanted to become a more central player for club this season, both figuratively and literally.

“But I’d like to see myself play more in the No.10 role. I think it would educate me a little bit more…I know I’ve got to keep working hard at my game and that I’ve got to keep producing more consistently for Liverpool.”

After a magical season where Liverpool came within one result of capturing the Premier League title for the first time in over 20 years, hope and expectation abounds amongst Liverpool fans the world over. This season represents a great opportunity for the Reds to win their first piece of major silverware since 2012 and central to that charge will be Sterling, a player who wasn’t even born when Liverpool were last crowned Champions of England.

But it is the youthful exuberance which he, and many other members of the Liverpool squad carry, which will serve the Reds well. Playing with a freedom given to them by Rodgers and without fear, Liverpool’s crop of exciting young talents are ready to make a quantum leap, lead by the exceptional Sterling.

Raheem Sterling is the best teenager on the planet. And he’s only going to get better.

Andrew Cussen
Follow me: @Cussen91

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