Following last week’s ‘tiredgate’ involving Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, it’s clear that it has become unacceptable for young players to be tired, no matter how many games they’ve played.
Newspapers, radio phone-ins and football forums were ablaze this week with people criticizing England’s decision to rest Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling against Estonia. Did Sterling ask Hodgson for a rest or did Hodgson take it upon himself? It hardly matters.
The take-home point from ‘tiredgate’ is that Raheem Sterling, a 19-year-old, has been run into the ground by his club and we’re not even halfway through the season. Last month he played nine matches for Liverpool, including 120 minutes in a League Cup tie against Middlesborough. His form has suffered, and Brendan Rogers is to blame.
Whilst still proving one of the Reds’ most exciting players this season, it is clear that Sterling is far from his best. Physical and mental fatigue appears to be taking their toll on a man not yet out of his teens. Sterling is one of the first names on the teamsheet for both England and Liverpool.
That is enormous pressure for a seasoned veteran, let alone someone starting out in football. The mental fatigue alone from being relied upon by two massive teams would drain any man. In a time when Sterling’s physical and mental health should be nurtured, he’s being used at every possible moment.
A short-term mentality with regards to Sterling could lead to a long-term break down for the player. Liverpool Boss Brendan Rodgers has spoken in the past about the need to be careful about risking burnout with Sterling. So far Rodgers has been all talk.
Nine games in one month is proof. Whether you agree with Roy Hodgson’s decision to rest Sterling or not, at least he put the player’s welfare first. Something that his club manager should be doing. Unlike at Manchester United, where youth prospects have been nurtured, Liverpool are yet again prematurely playing their best prospects.
The case of Raheem Sterling has reminded fans of the beautiful game of Liverpool’s recent failures, with the cases of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler being brought up as just two examples. Both men emerged as superstars in their late teens and early twenties for both club and country.
Fowler was referred to as God by the time he was in his mid-twenties. Yet by the time both men reached their thirties, a time when they should have been at their peak, they had burned out. It’s inconceivable to think that players peak in their early twenties but this is exactly what happened to Owen and Fowler.
By the time Michael Owen moved to Real Madrid aged 24 he had already lost a yard of pace. By the time he was 28 he had a laundry list of recurring injury problems. Owen himself concedes that Liverpool’s insistence on playing the striker at every opportunity contributed to his injuries and it’s sad to think that Liverpool’s failure to nurture Michael Owen deprived him of so much in later life.
Fowler’s case was equally as shocking. When he returned to Anfield in 2006, he was deemed old. He was only 30-years-old. In 2006 however, it was clear that Fowler was a completely different player from the young man who had slotted a hat-trick in four minutes against Arsenal.
Yes there are examples from elsewhere. Take Ronaldo (the real one), whom at the age of 27 was a shell of his former self. Pressure is being placed on emerging talents to play too many games. The risk of long-term damage should be evident but managers refuse to see it. What makes the Liverpool case particularly shocking is that they have experienced the consequences with Owen and Fowler.
What Liverpool must Learn from Fergie
Winning League titles for a start (Kidding, just Kidding!).
When it comes to managing young players, Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson had a proven track record. Most famously, Fergie helped nurture the ‘Class of ‘92’ and ensured that talents like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs played for United for years.
Seven years after the ‘Class of ’92’ emerged, United had won the treble. Ferguson didn’t try to get too much from the players when they were just finding their feet in the game. Fergie gave the players a rest when they needed it; he didn’t overplay them and he ensured they avoided unnecessary media pressure (granted he failed with Beckham in this case). Apart from Ryan Giggs, few players from the ‘Class of ’92’ were injury prone in their youth and it’s hardly a coincidence.
More recently, Fergie helped ensure Cristiano Ronaldo developed into one of the World’s most devastating players despite criticism of the young man early in his Old Trafford career. I still remember United fans complaining that Ronaldo was all flash and nothing else. Sticking to his guns, Fergie gave Ronaldo time to develop and mature. The results were devastating in the long-term.
Brendan Rodgers is a good manager, there’s no denying that. He plays an attractive brand of football, and despite the ridicule he may face from certain sections of the media, he’s good for Liverpool. Despite this, he still needs to learn from the best. Rodgers’ fixation on short-term results has led him to overplay Raheem Sterling.
Yes managers live in a short-term world where results are king, but Rodgers owes it to Sterling and Liverpool fans not to overwork Raheem. The 19-year-old has the potential to be a Reds legend for years to come but only if he is properly taken care of. There would be nothing more tragic than seeing Sterling go the way of Michael Owen and peak in his early 20s. If Rodgers doesn’t step up, it could well happen.
Sterling himself seems quite aware of the dangers of burning out, something that is refreshing to see from someone so young. Time will tell if Sterling fulfils his enormous potential and becomes a Reds legend. One thing is for sure though, if Raheem isn’t properly taken care of, he’ll be yet another Liverpool tragedy.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Andrea Sartorati [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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