Raheem Sterling is certainly one of the brightest prospects that England have produced in a long time. He possesses pace, tigerish strength in spite of his 5’6″ frame as well as an abundance of skill. At just 19, he is already an integral player for both club and country; but is he ready to be labelled as the key player for such a demanding football nation as England?
Sterling’s club form suggests that he is well on the way to becoming Liverpool’s key man at the very least. After forcing his way back into the team towards the beginning of last season, Sterling blossomed into an excellent attacking option for Liverpool in their title challenge, adding goals and assists to the precocious dribbling ability he showed when he first broke into the team in the 2012/13 season.
Sterling was emerging as a key player already towards the end of last season, scoring seven goals in the league; four of which coming in the seven games where Sterling was moved to the head of Brendan Rodgers’ diamond formation. His best performance was against Norwich, at the end of Liverpool’s 11-game winning run, where Sterling scored twice and set up another in a 3-2 win. His goals and general input from the front of the diamond was integral to Liverpool’s strong finish to the season. Sterling was proving himself to be a key man.
After the sale of Luis Suarez, Sterling has stepped up another level and already looks to be Liverpool’s best attacking threat this season. His performance in the 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur was mesmerising, adding to his goal on the opening day against Southampton, as well as a mazy run through the defence that Lionel Messi would have been proud of, despite a comically tame finish at the end of it.
Sterling has certainly proved himself to be a key player for Liverpool, but his lack of experience at international level has perhaps held him back from becoming England’s main man. He is still only 19, and won just his 9th cap against Switzerland on Monday, where he notched his first assist for the Three Lions. A rate of one assist in nine games is hardly that of a good international team’s key player.
However, despite only just notching his first assist, some of Sterling’s performances for England have been eye-catching. He was England’s best player in the World Cup defeat to Italy, where he terrorised the Azzuri’s defenders from the central role he had thrived in at Liverpool. Furthermore, Sterling looked dangerous through the middle against Switzerland, much more so than out wide against Norway last Wednesday, and England also looked a much better team with him through the middle. The same can be said about the world cup, where England looked a lot less fluid against Uruguay with Sterling out wide and Rooney through the centre.
He may still be finding his feet at international level, but playing Sterling in the central attacking midfield role has made England look a much better team. England still have a number of key players, however, that must work in tandem with Sterling in order to get the best out of him and for the team. Players like Jordan Henderson, who proved himself as integral to Liverpool last season, Gary Cahill, as England’s most experienced central defender and also Wayne Rooney, who despite his poor form has shown himself to still be creative and important to England.
Another reason not to pin all hopes on Sterling is the example of Rooney. After his explosive introduction to tournament football at Euro 2004, aged 18, Rooney has struggled to live up to the world beating potential he showed at such a young age, especially at major tournaments. In order to encourage Sterling’s rapid development, caution must be taken in labelling him as England’s key man or great hope, as this can often have a negative effect on a player’s ability to perform for the national team.
Raheem Sterling may be too young to be labelled England’s key man just yet, but his great form means he looks to be England’s most dangerous player going forward, especially when deployed in the central role. His link up play with Liverpool team mates Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson will be important if England are to progress as a team, and Sterling is certainly integral to that. England do still have a number of other quality players to help Sterling, and he still has some way to go, but if he continues his meteoric rise and can transfer his great club form to the international stage, he may develop into England’s best player for the next European Championships and for many years beyond.