Was it a case of too much too young for this Liverpool youngster?

Liverpool Forward Raheem SterlingThe last 12 months have been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for young Raheem Sterling. Considered one of English football’s few genuine talents coming through the academy system, the Jamaican born 18-year-old went from a graduate to over 30 senior appearances in one season. Quite an achievement for someone at as tender an age as him. One cannot forget arguably an even bigger achievement of Sterling’s last season too – achieving his first senior England cap against Sweden in November 2012.

This success at such a young age did not come totally out of the blue however. Growing up in Wembley, North-West London, from the age of 14 Sterling plied his trade at QPR. It was at this time that he featured on the front page of a newspaper in Jamaica that insisted he would ‘dazzle the English football world with his prodigious talent’. That’s a lot of presumption and pressure heaped onto a 14 -year-old child. When he came to Liverpool’s attention and cheque book – the pressure inflated. Sterling was signed by the Anfield club in 2010 for a fee of £600,000 with the fee rising to a potential £5million depending on appearances. Sterling’s success last season means that QPR have almost received the bulk of this payment.

With success in football comes an intense media spotlight. Sterling’s fearless string of performances after he was thrust into the Liverpool team made interest in him as a person as well as a footballer key to the media’s appetite for him. Sterling shunned the gangs of his tough London estate to focus on football and that won him widespread admiration and respect from the British media in particular. However, allegations about his private life – in common with other Premier League footballers have emerged. The difference being Sterling is more or less still a child in the embryonic stages of adult life.

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The intense spotlight was at its height when it was alleged he had fathered multiple children at the age of 18. Sterling strenuously denied this but does boast at least one daughter. All seemed well after that rumour was put to bed. However, when he publicly took to Twitter to wish his child a happy 1st birthday on the wrong day, the media pounced. When he got involved in a public conversation over the social network with his child’s mother – the ammunition and fuel to a story in the national press was in abundance. This outburst of naivety from Sterling merely reinforced the fact that the world of unforgiving attention was and still is new to him.

This is indicative of why we need to protect our youngest players from experiencing too much too young. Across football there is a pattern. The best, most widely respected professionals are ones that are advised or take it upon themselves to keep their private lives totally separate from their profile as a footballer and events on the pitch. To my mind Paul Scholes is a classic example – someone that Sterling could certainly learn from.

Yet, even Paul Scholes didn’t grow up in the era of new technology including the emergence of social networks which media organisation’s now monitor on a 24-hour basis to churn out stories worthy of readership. Sterling and many other young, talented footballers like him must be prepared for everything they do to be scrutinised. There is no lull in trying to generate stories these days – there used to be just a few sports bulletins a day on terrestrial TV but now we have a 24-hour sports news channel. Time must be filled in any way. Add to this the instant information the Internet provides us with and players like Sterling are stepping onto a minefield day after day.

Baring this in mind, in the immortal words of The Specials – has it been too much, too young for Sterling? Focus on his private life almost certainly doesn’t help with his footballing career. Yet his football so far can hardly be described as disappointing. After bursting on to the Anfield scene like few others have managed (especially Englishmen) defenders got a shock. However, with his increased profile comes a new challenge for Sterling. How will he react to defenders knowing and studying his style of play? How will he deal with increased competition in Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team? Only time will tell.

If Sterling keeps up his form this season and maintains his position in the Liverpool team, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him playing for England in Brazil this time next year. Roy Hodgson is a known admirer. But would this be too early for the youngster? We all know what happened to Theo Walcott after he was infamously picked by Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006. His career has probably only just recovered. Me merely mentioning the idea of Sterling playing a part in England’s World Cup campaign epitomises the excitement of journalists when someone like Sterling comes along.  Too much too young? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough – but let’s just hope Raheem stays true to that philosophy.

Is it Raheem Sterling’s season?

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