Too Soon For Sterling?

The surprise inclusion of Raheem Sterling into the England squad for the match against Ukraine has certainly got the public talking.  At just 17 years of age, and with just 5 Premier League appearances under his belt, Sterling has been thrust into the international spotlight. 

Whilst Sterling has undoubtedly got the ability and potential to make it as a future England star, his very inclusion is a worry for the state of the English national team.  This isn’t a criticism of Sterling himself, who has proved to be a ray of light in an otherwise gloomy start to the season at Anfield.

Instead, this selection merely confirms just how devoid of resources Roy Hodgson really is. The facts paint an alarming story for Hodgson.  In the most recent round of Premier League matches, only 66 players of the 209 who featured were eligible to play for England, that’s just 31%, way down on the same figures for Europe’s other major leagues.  This means that Hodgson really does have very little to choose from.  But equally as worrying is what effect a call up so soon could have on Sterling.

Ironically, Sterling’s call up is thanks largely due to Theo Walcott being unavailable because he is suffering from a virus.  Theo Walcott was also called up to the England set up too soon when Sven Goran Eriksson named him in the squad for the World Cup in Germany in 2006.  He didn’t feature for a single minute in that tournament and he has never gone on to have the international career many predicted he could, and perhaps should have had.  It is important that the same situation doesn’t occur with Sterling.

Sterling only made his England debut at U19 level last Thursday against Germany, and yet just four days later he finds himself fast-tracked through the England set up and has been called up to the England first team squad.  Whilst the experience of training alongside the national team is likely to be beneficiary to Sterling, it is important that he doesn’t start to believe the hype that is being created around him.  He needs to keep his feet on the ground and develop at his own pace, not the pace that England want him to develop at.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has clearly placed a huge level of trust in Sterling by starting the youngster in home games against both Manchester City and Arsenal, and for the time being holding down a regular spot in the Liverpool side should be Sterling’s immediate target.  Rodgers must worry that this England call up may serve as an unwanted distraction that could prove damaging in the long term for Sterling, Liverpool and England.

Following Sterling’s call up to the U19 squad, Rodgers said, “I think with young players you have to be careful. They can be elevated above their station’s too quickly.  You then see them at 23 and 24 and wonder why they are not superstars anymore.”  His sentiments are tough to disagree with, and surely it makes more sense to let Sterling develop with the U19’s until he is fully prepared to play in the England first team.

The arrival of Sterling into the England set up is another strong indication that the “Golden Generation” is being faded out, but it is important that the transition isn’t carried out too rapidly.  It would be a shame for Sterling’s ability to go to waste.

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