Soccer: Reds banking on Sterling

By Jon Culley

Young goalscorer 'revelation' but manager warns teen to keep his feet on the ground.

Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring on debut. Liverpool wants to nurture his development.  Photo / Getty Images
Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring on debut. Liverpool wants to nurture his development. Photo / Getty Images

Already an Under-21 international, already selected for a senior England squad, now he has a Premier League goal: the Raheem Sterling whirlwind gathers momentum so fast the challenge for Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, is to keep it under control.

The 29th-minute goal that settled a contest otherwise notable - aside from Reading striker Jason Roberts making his point about the "Kick It Out" T-shirt campaign - for the number of chances Liverpool failed to take, made Sterling at 17 years 317 days the youngest player to score a competitive senior goal for the Anfield club after Michael Owen, who was 17 years 144 days when he netted on debut in 1997.

It was a fine goal, one that combined the youngster's speed and energy with his seemingly innate football intelligence, coming inside from his wide position in the way that Rodgers had encouraged him to do.

Luis Suarez fed him a sublime chipped pass and Sterling eagerly outpaced Shaun Cummings before shooting beyond the reach of goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.

It came 10 years almost to the day since another precociously-talented teenager was announcing himself on the other side of Stanley Park with his first goal for Everton.

Other than this coincidence of dates, there are no parallels yet that can be drawn between Sterling and Wayne Rooney, and Rodgers is keen for it to stay that way, particularly in the knowledge that, less than two years after his famous first goal against Arsenal, Rooney and Everton had parted company.

Rodgers has been asked more than once whether the Jamaica-born, London-raised Sterling has the temperament to handle a potentially meteoric rise and the question surfaced again inevitably. The answer, in a nutshell, is: so far, so good.

"At this moment, I've no worries about him keeping his feet on the ground," Rodgers said. "I talk to the players a lot about the good and the bad and up to now Raheem has been brilliant.

"He is a good kid with a lovely way about him. His mum does a terrific job with him and the people at the academy have taught him good values and good morals as well.

"Nothing fazes him, he has a good head on his shoulders and he handles everything about his situation really well. He likes people to be direct with him, he listens to his coaches, he listens to the right people. He doesn't waste his time doing stupid things.

"But he has got an awful long way to go. We want to have him here as a legend for many years. We don't want him here at 17 years of age to get carried away with all this adulation and then, at 21, he is washed up and everyone wants him out.

"The biggest thing for me is just maintaining the hunger he has at the moment. He is learning fast and he can be a really, really top player. So far, he has been a revelation."

It is already in his manager's mind that there may have to be a pause, a moment at which Sterling's development benefits from a spell away from the front line. But with much still to prove about his own ability, Rodgers will want that point to come later rather than sooner.

His first home Premier League win as Liverpool manager saw his side need 19 direct attempts and a good few more promising build-ups to score their solitary goal, with the otherwise exceptional Suarez particularly profligate. Leaving out someone who can finish a move is not yet a luxury open to him.

- Independent

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