Football: Rep dream linked on arm, now it's reality

By Henry Winter

Jamaican-born 19-year-old always hoped he’d one day play for England

Raheem Sterling, 19, is challenged by Italy's Matteo Darmian at the World Cup. Picture / AP
Raheem Sterling, 19, is challenged by Italy's Matteo Darmian at the World Cup. Picture / AP

Born to run, Raheem Sterling also spent some of his formative years cycling around the old car park at Wembley as England's home was being reconstructed, marvelling at the arch being hoisted into the sky.

"I used to say to myself, 'One day, when the stadium is built, I'd like to play in there'," said Sterling.

Born in Jamaica, Sterling moved to Wembley when he was 5, his talent soon spotted by QPR's academy and eventually by Liverpool's. Wembley, and England, always remained in his dreams, a point he made when proffering his heavily-inked left arm for inspection after training at Urca on Tuesday.

"I've got a tattoo of a young boy with a football in his hands, looking at the stadium, saying 'It's a dream'," said Sterling.

"It's something that I've always wanted: to play for England and be the best I can be as a footballer." His mother helped guide him, offering advice before his first competitive start against Italy in Manaus on Sunday.

"Before the game she just told me to relax, not put too much pressure on myself and not beat myself up, and try and do my best.

"After the game she dropped me a text and knew I wouldn't have replied until the next day because we lost. She told me to get over it as quickly as possible and move on to the next one and try not to make just the family proud but everyone in the country proud. She can be tough on me. She's said I didn't put the ball into the back of the net enough."

Keen to learn and improve, the 19-year-old takes similar inspiration from England internationals. "As I was growing up, I knew a lot about the players. I watched Wayne (Rooney), Frank (Lampard), Stevie (Gerrard) and they are players I look up to. It's a real honour to be alongside players like this that have done so much for their club and country."

Lampard was sitting next to Sterling at Urca, listening in, giving some typically sound counsel to the youngster as he seeks to deal with the circus of England life, dodging the wrecking balls of injury, temptation and public scrutiny. "As a footballer, carry on doing what you're doing," was Lampard's main advice to Liverpool's exciting attacker. "Raheem is a different player to what I was. He's instinct. He thinks on the pitch at the last second because of his ability and pace. I probably had to think a bit more, work a bit harder behind the scenes, but I'd say to him 'enjoy it'. I've seen him play for the last six months for Liverpool and it's been spectacular and it's great to have him in the squad.

"Off the pitch, it's a hard one, it's such a goldfish bowl these days. He has to live his own life. So try and listen to the people around him. It sounds like his mother's very strong with him. That will always help. He won't want to upset her too much. We all need one of those. That's great for him. Raheem is not the sort of kid walking around now as if he runs the hotel because he's been playing so well. He's very level-headed. So keep that up."

Sterling is also fortunate that he has a manager in Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool who shrewdly oversees his development. He has a club and national captain in Steven Gerrard keeping an eye on him, pointing him in the right direction, protecting him as when leading him around the field after his dismissal in Miami. He has a good advisor in Aidy Ward.

He also has a No10 tattoo. Sterling enjoyed playing behind England's main striker, Daniel Sturridge, against Italy but is prepared to go back wide if required. Roy Hodgson is expected to field Wayne Rooney in his best position, No10, with Sterling and Danny Welbeck wide and Sturridge up top against Uruguay in Sao Paulo tomorrow.

"I would be happy to play anywhere the manager puts me," said Sterling.

"I am a team player. I will be working for the team regardless of which position I play in. Whatever game it is, I will try to do what I like to do but sometimes you've got to adjust. We played a lot of attacking stuff on Saturday but it didn't get us the win. We've been working really hard to try to do some interchanging with the positions."

Nothing frightens him. "No I'm young and I'm learning. I've got a lot to learn and grow up. I do worry about stuff but at the same time I'm learning every day and have people around me guiding me in the right way." His education continued with a Latin lesson in Manaus. "It was a difficult one because they had about three players around me every time," he said.

"Italy were a good team, a good passing team, they knew really well how to probe with the ball and how to pass it with pressure on them. At the same time I thought we did very well, we could have got up to them a bit more but we tried to give it our best shot." He raced back at one point and dispossessed Andrea Pirlo. "I knew it was him on the ball, but in the first half there was no point pressing him sometimes because he's such a good player he would just bounce around the corner. I tried to sit off and wait for a chance to go at him. That was one of the opportunities I had to do it. I will do anything for my team." He played well, almost scoring.

He wants to take that vibrant form into the game against Uruguay.

Sterling is relishing his first tournament, as his neighbour Lampard enjoyed his first tournament, Euro 2004. "I can't remember the whole tournament," Sterling said. "That's a scary thought," Lampard interjected.

And as for body art, Lampard is one of the few England players not to have any tattoos. "And it's going to stay that way, don't worry." Sterling, meanwhile, just looks at the image of Wembley, and of how far he has come. Next stop Sao Paulo. England need to win otherwise they will all be on their bike.


Raheem Shaquille Sterling

Born: December 8, 1994
Club: Liverpool
First club: Queens Park Rangers before signing for Liverpool in 2010; represented England at under-16, under-17 and under-21 level before being capped at full level by the national side in 2012.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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