Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Raheem Sterling's Surulere story is quite inspiring.


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.’
Calm and composed: The youngster steadied himself excellently to open the scoring against Manchester City
One month earlier, Liverpool had bought Sterling from Queens Park Rangers for £450,000, the first time the club had paid such a massive fee for a player so young.

‘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.
Cleared: Sterling was alleged to have assaulted model girlfriend Shana Ann Rose Halliday last year

He was naturally strong and, as he settled in at the club, his stamina took Liverpool staff by surprise. In one test, head of sports medicine Peter Brukner monitored Sterling’s performance during an FA Youth Cup tie that went to extra time.
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.’

On arrival at Liverpool, Sterling moved into digs in Liverpool’s Rainhill district. He missed home so much that the club’s welfare officer, Phil Roscoe, would drive the starlet down to Wembley for a night at a time, bringing him back for training the next day.
‘My mum’s a big part of my life,’ admits Sterling of a woman who brought him up by herself. ‘She tries to have too much of a say sometimes. I try to listen, because most of what she says is right.’
A shared faith and his tattoos underline the bond. As well as an inked drawing of Wembley Stadium, there is an inscription on his arms which reads: ‘Thank you mama for the nine months you carried me, through all the pain and suffering.’
Until recently, Sterling has been singled out more for off-field scrapes than his brilliant football. In May 2013 he had a common assault charge against him dropped after a witness failed to turn up to court, then in September he was found not guilty of assault against a former girlfriend.
He admits he has ‘made mistakes’ but appears to be learning a career as a professional athlete does not sit well with an active social life - especially since he became a father to Melody Rose at the age of 17.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who feared Sterling would become one of football’s ‘spoilt rich kids’, has become a father figure. He has also enriched Sterling’s football development - the slightly built but tenacious forward now seems more tactically aware, proving equally adept at the point of a diamond or in a wide position.
The change in dynamic between the two men suggests talks over a new contract for Sterling will follow this summer. ‘He’s helped me massively,’ says Sterling. ‘Not only with my game but if I need someone to talk to off the field. I’ve got to give credit to him and thank him a lot.’
Liverpool can be an unforgiving city to a wealthy young man about town, but Sterling has taken advice from Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. They have an affection for their young team-mate and a respect for someone who is willing to listen.
‘I’ve become a better all-round person, especially in how I live my life these days and I’ve learned to be more selective with the people I trust,’ says Sterling.
‘The people close to me now are good for me. I’ve learned from the experiences I had growing up, from the people who weren’t there for me. I now listen to my elders at home and at the club. On the pitch, I couldn’t ask for better people around me at Liverpool, like Gerrard and Suarez who have been there and done it.’
Sterling has toughened up on the pitch, partly due to a bespoke fitness programme the club has developed for him. He spends time in the gym targeting his upper body.

Off the pitch, he has moved away from the city towards the leafy Southport area, and rarely ventures out. He enjoys the occasional visit to D’Flava, his favoured Caribbean restaurant. There’s the odd home-cooked Jamaican patty, but rice and peas, red pea soup, chicken and spaghetti bolognese are about as dangerous as his diet gets.
As for confrontations, he confines those to the PlayStation games NBA 2K14 or FIFA 14. The latter helps him dream of a World Cup place with England in Brazil, but first is the sense of Liverpool’s first league title in 24 years.
A shimmy to the left and step to the right wrong-footed Manchester City on Sunday as Sterling triggered Liverpool’s 3-2 win over their rivals. Afterwards, England team-mate Joe Hart acknowledged Sterling’s role in City’s defeat and boldly proffered: ‘See you at the World Cup, Raheem!’ In a sign of his developing maturity, Sterling replied: ‘If selected!’
There’s no doubt the watching Roy Hodgson will be purring at the prospect of Sterling repeating what he did to Vincent Kompany against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Aiding Liverpool to a Premier League crown would surely cement his place. ‘I don’t want to be the one who says Liverpool can go on and win the league,’ said Sterling.
‘But there’s a real belief and togetherness in the squad, we’re all working for each other.
‘We all know what the dream is at the end of it.’