Its been said time and time again, England aren’t good enough to win it all. The same can be said for Liverpool FC who have had a mediocre few years, but with the meteoric rise of a 17 year old, both England and Liverpool’s fortunes can dramatically change. Enter: Raheem Sterling.
From living in the notorious streets of the St Raphael’s Estate to starting for both club and country, Sterling is living the dream most of us can only imagine about and it wasn’t easy. Only a handful make it to the big stage and it takes extreme hard work and dedication.
Hard work and self-motivation are the skills that personify Raheem Sterling as a footballer and a human being. I spoke to childhood friend Liban Abdullahi to find out what Sterling was like growing up as a friend; footballer and what drove him to the top of the football world.
Growing up in the same area as Liban and Raheem. I experienced firsthand the technical ability of Sterling and I am not surprised he is doing what he is best at for club and country. It was a three on three pickup game of football. My team versus Raheem’s team and at the age of just 11 I was amazed at his ability to dribble the ball and it was obvious he was destined for big things.
Speaking to Liban about his ability in primary school: ‘Raheem was a standout player. He would take the ball, dribble through a few players and he would be laughing as he’s doing it’.
There was no disrespect intended but he thoroughly enjoyed the game and was exceptional at it as Liban witnessed at a young age. Liban knew from the beginning from when he touched a ball that his ability speaks for itself: ‘He chose what position to play in the school team, his ability granted him that freedom of choice.’
Sterling’s attitude also personified his passion for the game. ‘It was a primary school tournament and during a game Raheem was benched. The team was losing 1-0 with a few minutes remaining. Raheem was shouting saying ‘bring me on bring me on’.
After a while, the coach brought him on and saw instant results. ‘He scored two goals in mere minutes to win the game. He dribbled through a few players and bang: the ball was in the back of the net. The other team restarted the game and he did the same again. 2-1, it finished’.
Hearing this anecdote, I was amazed at Sterling’s desire to succeed and his ability backed it up.
Additionally, Raheem was a part of the QPR set up from the age of 10, which helped him gain the competition, and training he required to help him on his path to stardom. As a footballer, his ability spoke for itself but what was Raheem like in school?
Liban mentioned the only thing that could of hindered his rise, as a footballer was his attitude. ‘Attitude problems and arguing was the only thing holding him back but his age at the time played true to that but as you get older you mature and you learn from your mistakes’. His personality in school was a joy for those around him, peers and teachers alike. ‘He was a joker with everyone’.
This was personified during an end of year drama play, in which Liban, Raheem and others would spend time cracking jokes backstage. Off the field, Raheem clearly enjoyed making others laugh but on the field he had his mind set and focused on his football. The area of St Raphael’s Estate during 2005-2011 was embroiled with gangs and violence and this had a negative effect on a lot of kids growing up in the area.
However, Raheem wasn’t to get caught up. His attitude and focus on school and football kept him away from what would have taken him away from the game and instead he has thrived on doing what he loves. Liban reiterated that ‘Football kept him away from the wrong path. It’s as simple as that, his love for the game kept him focused on what’s important’.
Playing for Queens Park Rangers and attending Copland Community School, it wasn’t long before he caught the eyes of the big clubs. Reports of Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool among other teams came in for him before he decided to leave London and join Liverpool for £600,000 in February 2010.
A decision gratified by Liban: ‘They have a great youth team set up and they’re the perfect club for Raheem to develop his ability and maximise his potential’. Raheem has been on the rise ever since. Sterling made his first team debut at the age of 15 in a pre-season game against Borussia Monchengladbach on August 2010.
Sterling made national news after he scored 5 goals in a youth a FA Youth Cup game against Southend United. On March 2012 he became the 2nd youngest player to make his season debut against Wigan Athletic at 17 years and 107 days. The feats keep on coming for Sterling and he welcomes it with humbleness.
Liban also saw the loan of Andy Carroll as a move that’s helped Sterling’s career propel to the next level. With Carroll going on loan to Liverpool, the opportunity arrived for Sterling to showcase his talents on a regular basis and he has not disappointed.
He has played 11 of 14 games in the Premier League so far this season and he became the second youngest player to score in a competitive game for Liverpool, only behind Michael Owen after he scored against Reading in a 1-0 home win.
Still only being 17, Raheem recently made his debut in a friendly for England against Sweden and Liban sees the potential for Sterling to make the England squad for the 2014 World Cup. ‘As long as he concentrates on his football then why not?’
Liban also saw the positives of playing with and learning from the likes of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard. ‘Raheem will be able to maximise his potential and get better every day by playing with some of the best in the world’. Liban personally has sky-high faith in his friend and went, as far as to say that Sterling 'could be ‘England’s Lionel Messi’. Strong words to say but I totally agree with him.
Fast-forward to today and the football world knows of Raheem Sterling. His meteoric rise as a footballer has left the world stunned. His character and personality makes him a popular figure amongst his friends and family.
His technical ability speaks for itself and Sterling’s potential is sky high; Starting for Liverpool and playing for England first team isn’t so bad for a 17 year old eh?
image: © bernard-chan