Doom and gloom seems to very much be the order of the day when talking about England’s World Cup hopes recently. Injury to Theo Walcott in the recent North London derby was for some the final straw, and has left many with little hope going into a pivotal year on the international stage.
I don’t contest that the injury to the Arsenal winger was anything but a major blow, but given the plethora of young talent looking to break through isn’t this a huge opportunity?
The name on everyone’s lips following a series of sensational recent performances is that of Raheem Sterling. The talented 19 year old has been on the cusp of breaking through with just the sole full international cap to date, but if recent form is anything to go by this could all be about to change.
Sterling has been an integral part of the Liverpool title charge, and it is his pace and cutting edge that have seen the ‘Reds’ tear apart opposition in the blink of an eye. At 19 he is clearly a player that needs nurturing, but on merit his inclusion on the plane to Rio is a must.
His club captain Steven Gerrard echoed this sentiment in a recent Telegraph interview:
“He’s in top form at a fantastic time,” Gerrard said. “I’m obviously disappointed for Theo with his injury but I’m sure Roy Hodgson is looking out for who is going to replace him and Raheem’s performances of late have been sensational.
“There are many candidates. Aaron Lennon’s playing well. There is Andros Townsend and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s back, but if you are looking at like-for-like – pace down the wing and someone who can make, score and create – then Raheem has got a fantastic chance.”
If there were a squad announcement next week, it would be hard for Hodgson not to select the precocious Sterling. With his near rivals only just returning form injury, it has been the Liverpool based winger who has shone and staked him claim. But the problem for Sterling in what has so far been a short career has always been consistency. Dogged by off-field dramas throughout, it is unsurprising that Rodgers has treated his development with caution. Yet ever since his dropping back down to the U21’s we have seen a totally different side to Sterling, especially in domestic football.
His 16 Premier League appearances this term have returned 3 goals with a remarkable 24 clear-cut chances created. Rather than the volatility of old, we are starting to see the young Englishman turn in performances week in and week out. With the likes of Lennon and Townsend still struggling for regular game time as well as failing to produce on weekly basis this could be the time for Sterling to nail down a place.
Gerrard was again quick to underline the way in which Sterling is beginning to deal with his meteoric rise to stardom a little better:
“You’ve got to understand his age. He’s learning the game. He’s got a fantastic manager to help him through that,” he said.
“He’s only 19 and you are going to suffer a dip in form. Who doesn’t have a dip at 19 years of age? But the mark of a good player and how good any player is going to be is how they come back from that. Can he react? To come back the way he has, he’s been one of our most consistent players in the last couple of months. He’s been brilliant.
“I think he knows what the situation is. I said to him after the Stoke game ‘if you keep your performance at that level and you are going to make it very difficult for Roy Hodgson not to take you’.”
Sterling clear has the talent to be a star for club and country, but as he finally starts to knuckle down under the excellent tutelage at Liverpool is it finally time he gets that regular call from England?