Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has hogged the headlines for all the right reasons so far this season, with a string of exceptional displays, but with reports of a contractual dispute brewing over the 17-year-old’s wage demands and a creeping petulance coming into his natural game, could he be in danger of overestimating his worth to the side and getting too arrogant in the process?
Should Sterling make his senior England debut on Wednesday night against Sweden, he will become the third youngest international ever to represent his country in a century, which seems a remarkable achievement for the youngster who has really come to the fore at Anfield this year under Brendan Rodgers.
A sign of what a vital player he has become in just a few short months was the fact that he was rested for the club’s Europa League away trip to Anzhi Makhachkala for the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the weekend; a fixture that you’d normally consider a player of his age and inexperience to start in alongside the likes of Andre Wisdom, Jon Flanagan and Adam Morgan, but he’s started every single league game to date this campaign.
Rodgers spoke of rewarding Sterling with a new contract for his bright start this season earlier last month: “There will be something but there’s no need to rush it. He has become a very talented young man in the space of four months, so he and his representatives and family know our thoughts on him and we just want to make sure his concentration is on his football.”
Reports have emerged stating that Sterling, who will see his current deal rise from £2,000 per week to £20,000, is said to have his eye on a deal worth around £50,000 per week, which if it’s true, is quite frankly obscene. However, it seems as if it has been completely fabricated, with Sterling deleting his tweet which said: “I’ve just woken up to this rubbish. I can assure you I’ve not asked for that stupid amount, where [sic] waiting till I’m 18 to sign.”
We’re often willing to believe the worst in players quickly and a report like this seems to be preying on the culture of baby millionaires which the game has spawned in recent times. Similar reports surfaced about Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck when his club sought to reward him with a new deal for his form and development into a key first-team figure and it’s all just part and parcel of the game now.
The caricature villain completes a neat story arch for the newspapers firstly you are young and untested, then after a spot of good form you are dubbed a ‘wonderkid’ or ‘starlet’, then pressure grows on the club to tie the player down and when it’s not done immediately, reports like this surface calling the young player greedy, trying to highlight that he’s everything wrong with the game, before he then signs a significantly reduced deal to the one rumoured stating that he was always happy and never wanted to leave in the first place. You see, there’s just far more copy in a fabricated feud than there is in just telling the truth as it is. Young kid soon-to-sign new deal isn’t the most interesting headline around.
Nevertheless, there has been a level of petulance in Sterling’s play of late and he was somewhat fortunate to stay on the pitch against Everton in the Merseyside derby recently, with a series of niggling tackles and needless back-chat to the referee Andre Marriner. This led to captain Steven Gerrard having to plead Sterling’s case and appeal for leniency due to the context of the game.
There’s a certain swagger to his game and he possesses that rare ability in a winger so young to play with his head up and he’s a creative force when given the freedom to roam, yet he can look a little greedy at times and there are question marks over his attitude at times, even if he is almost frighteningly mature for one so young for the most part.
Inevitably, Sterling will be compared to Rooney, simply because of how quickly both came out of nowhere to make themselves key figures for their club sides and the sheer amount of talent they displayed. It’s often cited that Rooney’s fire is what makes him the player he is, something of a cliche if you ask me, at a young age, it can certainly help you adjust to the rigours of the top flight, playing each week, but it’s when it continues to play a crucial part in your game as you mature that it becomes a hindrance, like it has with the United forward.
Sterling looks as if he can become a world-class player one day and that is no overstatement, for he already looks a better player than Aaron Lennon and equal to someone like Theo Walcott in terms of all-around ability, even if he needs to add more end product in the final third. He’s a star in the making and a crown jewel in Brendan Rodgers youthful Liverpool side, so reports of unrest are commonplace with his quick rise from nowhere, but there’s a grain of truth that he may be becoming too over-confident on the pitch, even if reports aimed at unsettling him off it seem wide of the mark.
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