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RAHEEM STERLING has been turning heads on Liverpool’s pre-season tour of North America. The teenager’s pace, trickery and application during training at Harvard University this week has earned him glowing praise from some experienced onlookers.
Joe Cole, back in the Reds squad after his season-long loan spell at Lille, had heard the hype about the flying winger who was handed a first team bow towards the end of last season and the reality of seeing him in action hasn’t disappointed.
Sterling, who is set to be involved in tonight’s opening friendly against Toronto FC, has long since been viewed as a star of the future and Cole has no doubt he will fulfil his potential.
“It’s the first time I’ve spent a lot of time with Raheem and he has certainly impressed me,” Cole said.
“I know the fans saw a bit of him for a few games towards the end of last season.
“He’s quick, he’s skilful and he has definitely got goals in him.
“He’s going to be a special player for Liverpool and I think he could really make an impression this season.
“He’s a good kid who wants to work hard. Raheem has got that mentality where I don’t think anything will faze him. He’s competitive and he’s a strong boy.”
Manager Brendan Rodgers is more cautious when it comes to discussing arguably the club’s most exciting young talent in years.
The Northern Irishman is wary of pushing Sterling too far too soon and risking damaging his development.
Rodgers is even considering sending the 17-year-old out on loan this season in order for him to gain valuable experience.
The Reds boss insists Sterling isn’t yet ready to hold down a place in the Premier League.
“One of the things I’ve done over my career is manage the expectation of young players,” Rodgers said.
“The reality is he’s still very young. Raheem is a talent and he has certainly shown qualities but he’s not ready for the first team yet.
“There are very few players in the world who get into a Premier League team at 17, never mind a top club.
“It will be a decision for me over the next few weeks whether he stays and is involved or he goes on a loan period.”
Having had a taste of first team action Sterling is hungry for more but there’s a wise head on those young shoulders.
This tour has given him the chance to showcase his talents in front of the new manager and Sterling is happy to have Rodgers guiding his progress.
“I’m still only 17 and I’m still learning so I have to take it step by step,” he said.
“It’s great to come away and be part of the squad and I’m hoping to impress in training and see where it takes me.
“The new manager is great with the young lads and has made us all feel really welcome. He wants to play attractive football, which is what Liverpool Football Club is all about. We are getting into the regime of playing tika-taka football.
“As a young player you’re always trying to impress, especially when it’s a new manager, but it’s also key not to overdo it, just keep it simple so your normal game shines through.
“I just hope to do well in training and hopefully I’ll get some minutes in the pre-season games.
“Playing for the first team last season has whetted my appetite even more, but we’ll have to see if the manager thinks I can be part of the team. I’ve got to work hard day in day out and see where it takes me.”
Sterling’s debut had been eagerly anticipated with Reds supporters having charted his rise through the youth ranks following his arrival from Queens Park Rangers in February 2010.
It finally arrived when he came off the bench late on in the league defeat to Wigan at Anfield back in March.
There was a buzz around the ground when Sterling was introduced and he was handed two more substitute appearances before the end of the campaign.
“Coming on to make my debut at Anfield was like a dream come true for me,” Sterling said.
“To have everyone wanting to see me play was really exciting and I’m really thankful for the support the fans have given me.
“It was really good for me as a winger. The tempo was much sharper than reserve football and I got less time on the ball so it was a good learning experience for me. Now I just want to get better and better.”
Sterling’s natural talent is coupled with a thirst to learn and improve further.
“I like watching Cristiano Ronaldo, but you can’t model yourself on anyone else,” he added.
“You just want to take parts of other players’ games and try to add it to yours – that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
“Obviously everyone wants to be playing in the first team but that’s not the real world and you have to take it step by step.
“After this tour I’ll need to do well for the reserves. Then you get the call from the first team you have to be ready to take tour chance.
“You can’t take anything for granted but you get your rewards for hard work.”