Raheem Sterling has come a long way from the small boy he used to be. He has played a pivotal role in Liverpool's exciting chase for the Premier League trophy and he'll probably be a part of England's squad to the world cup later this summer. We take a look at his journey.
Kenny Dalglish was shifting uncomfortably as he stood on the touchline at Finch Farm, Everton’s training ground. Trepidation was writ large over his weathered face. The object of his attention was a tiny, fragile-looking 15-year-old swamped in a red shirt.
Raheem Shaquille Sterling was about to make his debut in a Merseyside derby - but against Everton’s Under 18s. Ninety dazzling minutes later, Dalglish nudged Liverpool’s academy director Frank McParland and said with a grin: ‘I think we’ve got a player there.’
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‘He had electrifying pace the likes of which I’d not seen since Michael Owen and he always wore a smile of sheer enjoyment when he was playing,’ said McParland. ‘All the big teams wanted him, so we knew we had to do something bold.’
Armed with scouting reports, video footage of Sterling juggling footballs on Sky’s Soccer AM Skills School and McParland’s recommendation, the then Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez pushed for a deal to be done before Manchester United and Arsenal could make a move.
QPR agreed to sell, with bonus payments taking the fee up to £2million should he play for England. For a boy who idolised former Liverpool winger John Barnes, the stage was set and Sterling quickly impressed.
His size - he is still only 5ft 7in - has seen him dismissed by those who don’t know him well. But, for a small man, Sterling relishes the physical side of football.
‘I’ve always played against guys who are bigger than me,’ he says of his early days with the club. ‘I was mocked by the crowd at a youth game in Germany once for my height. It’s always happened, I’ve always played above my age group, with bigger guys, but I love the challenge.
'With the physicality, I had to learn new tricks, learn to outsmart my opponent. It was good for me trying to outplay the older, bigger guys. It was scary at first but after a while I got used to it and getting kicked was just natural.
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He discovered Sterling’s running intensity was the same in the 118th minute as it had been in the third, a feat Brukner considered ‘incredible’. In comparison with the performance of then first-team striker Fernando Torres, staff said the figures were like ‘night and day’.
However, despite his speed and athleticism, Sterling could not run away from his problems off the pitch. Leaving his Wembley home and his beloved mum, Nadine, at 15 had not been easy. An inspirational woman of strong Christian beliefs, Nadine had moved her family to England from Maverley, Jamaica, when her son was just five.
A couple of years later, Sterling was removed from his primary school because of behavioural problems and spent three years at Vernon House special school, where he was told prophetically by a teacher: ‘If you carry on the way you’re going, by the time you’re 17 you’ll either be in prison or playing for England.’