ENGLAND captain Steven Gerrard is adamant that 17-year-old Raheem Sterling will become a significant player at international level after manager Roy Hodgson admitted the winger had been called up to encourage his development.
Hodgson has turned to Sterling, Southampton’s Adam Lallana and Tottenham’s Jake Livermore for tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine after the withdrawal of Arsenal’s Theo Walcott through illness and Gerrard, Sterling’s club
captain at Liverpool, believes this call-up to be the first of many as
his talent develops to fulfill an unquestionable potential.
“He is a fantastic talent, one of the shining lights at our club this year, even though results haven’t been good enough,” said Gerrard.
“It is great for him to be called up and get a feel for the senior group because it won’t be too long before he becomes a regular in this group. He is that good. He is a mature 17-year-old. There is nothing flash about him at all. He is a quiet kid. He works hard and listens and that is the key when you are that age and a good player. If you can listen and take advice from good managers and players, you will keep on progressing
“He is a breath of fresh air, especially for the older lads, with the pace and excitement he brings. He is a nightmare to mark for defenders.”
Such a character reference from a player of Gerrard’s calibre is unquestionably gratifying for Sterling,
who is expected to remain on the bench this evening at Wembley, but despite his praise Gerrard believes it would be wrong to prematurely pressure the winger and has called for patience in his progress.
“Let’s be patient with him,” he stressed. “Let’s not force it and expect too much too soon. Let it happen naturally and in time we will have a fantastic player for Liverpool and England. It is different for the young lads now, there is a lot more pressure on them. It’s important the people around them support them and give them the back-up they need.
“Just because you break into an England squad, or played a handful of games for your club, it doesn’t mean you are the finished article. There is still so much improving and learning for these guys to do.”
Sterling’s inclusion in the England squad comes amid Jamaica’s admittance of their intention to persuade him to switch his international allegiance but Hodgson is insistent that his inclusion is not simply reactionary and that the player’s progress is his primary concern.
“Raheem has come on leaps and bounds and in the opening matches he has played this season, the reports on him have been very good,” Hodgson said. “I am not bringing him with a view to necessarily playing him now, [but] because there might be a time in the future when not only does he feature as a substitute, he might be breaking into the team.”