Tom Nash gives us a peek into the next big talent from Liverpool in line with our Rough Diamonds series
Remember Bruno Cheyrou? He was “The new Zidane”. That didn’t really work out for him. What about Anthony Le Tallec? Another “New Zidane” loaned out five different clubs before being flogged off at a loss. David Ngog, anyone? Apparently “The New Drogba”! Well, he’s got the diving down to a tee. Liverpool are very fond of signing young players and hugely over-hyping them. It’s not just them, mind you. Around the world, we’ve had so many “New Maradonna”s, it’s almost an insult for any young Argentine attacker NOT to be called that. The latest player at Liverpool to be labelled with such an unhelpful tag is Raheem Stirling, signed at the age of 15 from QPR, who were desperate to hold onto him. Raheem’s apparent destiny is to be an injury-prone rapid dribbler with poor decision making, as he’s been dubbed “The New Theo Walcott”. No doubt the real Theo Walcott (Himself a former “New Thierry Henry”) must be scratching his head wondering if it’s all over at the age of 22 if there’s already a new him.
Somewhere in England there must be a “New Raheem Sterling” pulling on his first pair of boots. Given that he was born in Jamaica but pledged his future to England, and is competent with either foot, perhaps this Liverpool winger is “The n…” – no, I won’t say it.
Sterling is one of a crop of outstanding young players currently on Liverpool’s books. Raheem Sterling has been big news in the footballing community since the age of 14, when at QPR he was described by Kevin Gallen, the Head of Development as having “loads of natural ability. This boy can pass, shoot, head it, score goals, tackle, defend, anything.” Following his wonder strike for England U-17 against the mighty Rwanda at the U-17 World Cup, it won’t be long before he’s receiving much wider attention.
Young players develop at different rates, but to be compared to Wayne Rooney at a similar age won’t do any harm to his reputation. He’ll face a tough fight to force his way into the first team, Liverpool having made some recent marquee signings, but Kenny Dalglish has already shown that he’s not afraid to blood youngsters from the Academy, so it maybe only a year or two before he’s on the first team bench. Scoring five goals against Southend in the FA Youth Cup in front of Kenny Dalglish is a good way of letting the boss know who you are. If you have the time to take a look at the highlights of that game, you’ll see him popping up on both wings, and through the centre. He uses his blistering pace to great effect, and because he’s adept with either foot, full-back just don’t know what to do with him. Of course, the step up to the first team would match him up to far better opponents, and no doubt a fairly brutal welcome to top-flight football. He’ll probably consider himself lucky that Gary Neville has retired, because if he could get anywhere near him, I’m sure he’d be acquainting himself with supporters in rows A to D within the first five minutes.
Raheem Stirling certainly has a lot of growing up to do physically, but he’s already got the skills and pace to embarrass many a defender. Under Gerard Houllier, Liverpool’s youth policy seemed to wither. He preferred for some reason to bring in players from overseas, generally France, in their late teens, and none of them really made the grade. Things have changed at Liverpool now, they boast one of the most exciting youth and reserve set-ups, having invested heavily in an academy separate from the first team training ground at Melwood. The academy was opened in 1998, and in Raheem Stirling, Jonjo Shelvey, Danny Wilson, Toni Silva and Suso; staff at Kirkby train some of the most whispered about young footballers in the country. Seven players from Liverpool youth teams travelled with England U17s to the world Cup.
It may be a while before he’s ready to start first team games at Liverpool, but at the moment he’s one of the most exciting prospects in English football.