As an England fan I’m already worried about how much football Raheem Sterling is playing. The 17 year old has played a role in 11 fixtures for Liverpool this season already and must be rotated to avoid burn out and injury in this man’s game.
Wayne Rooney was restricted to 33 games in all competitions in his first season and 34 in his second as David Moyes tried to nurture his talent. Rooney also in terms of build was more ready physically for the demands of the Premier League, due to his incredible strength as early as 16. Sterling doesn’t posses the same natural physical gifts as the Manchester United, forward but then physical strength is less important out-wide. But still I can’t help but think keeping a wiry five foot seven forward on track for a 40 match plus season, could do great long-term damage.
Jack Wilshere became an integral part of Arsenal’s team at 19 and including internationals appeared in 53 matches. An ankle injury means Wilshere hasn’t played a professional football match since and I find it impossible that his injury weren’t due to him being over-played at 19.
The nature of the 17 year old’s position could also lead to more trouble and potential injury creative, pacy players are far more likely to be on the end of nasty challenges, as inferior defenders attempt to deal with their trickery. Lost amidst the Luis Suarez diving debate and the condemnation of Robert Huth’s disgusting stamp, was a ferocious scissor tackle Dean Whitehead committed on Sterling.
Another relevant comparison is with another young explosive talent who emerged through the Liverpool ranks, Michael Owen. The 32 year old played 44 games in his first full season. Now nearing the tail end of his career and being reduced to a impact substitute at Stoke, and having not represented England for four years, you must wonder whether the persistent playing of the striker in is teen years, is connected to his brutal injury problems he suffered during his twenties. The former Liverpool man, readily admits the best years of his career were as a teenager.
Sterling is likely to play a part during international break, having been included in England under 21s squad and the time is now for Brendan Rodgers to start using the forward more sparingly. Sterling has brought pace and dynamism to Liverpool, something that was lacking from Stuart Downing’s wing-play last year.
Rodgers may reservations about taking the 17 year old of his team, considering Sterling has been outperforming seasoned internationals, but this constant use of his starlet risks damaging him in the long term. The main issue with Rodgers taking Sterling out the team is lack of options out wide; Downing endured a miserable season after his £20 million move. The former Swansea boss has also hinted at using the £20 million man as a full-back. Both strikers Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini have been used out wide but both have looked more effective this term playing through the middle.
Rodgers focus with Sterling seems to be mainly on the mental side of the game, “I think we’ve seen so many times in this country. Top talents at 17 and 18 get so much too young, or pressure forced on them too early, and then they get to 21 or 22 and everyone has forgotten about them.” ( ESPN). While I think trying to keep a young player grounded is crucial and everything Rodgers says here is spot on. I also think its important that he leaves Sterling out for matches and rotates his talent to ensure he isn’t physically drained by the time he approaches his peak years.
Hopefully Rodgers will learn from Arsene Wenger’s mistakes with Jack Wilshere and not regularly play this precious talent twice a week until the end of the season. Follow me on Twitter: @jimmylowson