Liverpool’s policy of buying young British talent hasn’t exactly come to fruition so far; indeed the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll have been strongly criticised for their performances since they arrived at Anfield. Kenny Dalglish paid a total of £75 million for the underperforming trio, but perhaps the most exciting British star at the club could be a player that Rafa Benitez paid £600,000 for in February 2010.
Raheem Sterling is rated by the Reds as one of their brightest prospects for the future and his price tag, especially compared to the other three, looks like a snip. That £600,000 could rise to £5 million depending on appearances and add-ons, but even then, in this day and age, that could prove to be money well spent. Sterling caught the eye playing in the QPR youth setup, while also rising through the England age ranks as well. New manager Roy Hodgson was quick to notice his talent, throwing him into the action during pre-season, as he pulled on a red shirt for the first time against Borussia Mönchengladbach in a friendly.
Although Liverpool kept him away from the pressures of first team football as a mere 16-year-old, Sterling wowed the coaches with his performances for the youth team. He found the net on a regular occasion, but really thrust himself into the limelight when he bagged five in a game against Southend in the 2011 FA Youth Cup. His form during this tournament saw him selected for the FIFA U17 World Cup, where he also displayed promise wearing the Three Lions of England, scoring a belting goal in the opening game against Rwanda. He also got his name on the scoresheet as England defeated Argentina on penalties, a feat almost unimaginable to the senior squad.
As Liverpool toiled throughout a difficult season under Dalglish last year, the Scot began to introduce some of Liverpool’s younger generation in the hope of salvaging something from the wreckage. Sterling made his professional debut coming on as a substitute against Wigan aged 17 and 107 days, making him the second youngest player ever to play for the club.
He made another two cameo appearances at the back end of last season, coming off the bench against Fulham and also during that magnificent 4-1 win over Chelsea, a potential sign of what could lie ahead at Anfield. The pacy winger could well find himself involved in first time action frequently next year as Brendan Rodgers begins his Liverpool revolution. He is expected to feature heavily in pre-season to provide competition to the hapless Downing, while Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt, two other wide men, have both left the club.
This year could be a make or break season for Sterling at Anfield. He is reportedly keen to prove himself in the first team and wants the opportunity to play regularly like fellow youngsters Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing. Along with Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson, Sterling is expected to be offered the chance to show his worth to the club, though a loan move elsewhere is also a realistic option, rather like Shelvey, who impressed during a temporary spell at Blackpool at the start of last year. Rodgers’s style of football could well suit the winger, who could take up the position that Scott Sinclair performed admirably for Swansea last year. Fast tempo passing and swift counter attacks would suit the pace of Sterling superbly and therefore despite his young age, Liverpool’s new boss could put his talent to good use.
Nobody expects Liverpool to do as badly as they did last year, so look out for the likes of Sterling to help make the difference this season as Rodgers and the Reds go hunting for the Champions League once again.