RAHEEM STERLING insists he is happy to carry getting kicked to pieces – as long as his sacrifices result in more goals and assists.
The young Liverpool winger is the second most fouled player in the Premier League this season.
Only Steven Pienaar (with 53) has been fouled more than the 18-year-old (52), who admitted: “It is annoying trying to get to sleep with your legs in pieces. I know I get kicked a lot. I didn’t know I was one of the most fouled players in the league. But if that’s what it takes and we get free-kicks, I will take getting the kicks.”
Remarkably, Saturday’s visit of Norwich was only the third time this season that the rookie winger has failed to start a Premier League match.
For a player who only made his full debut in August it has been a dramatic introduction to senior football, culminating in a first cap for England in November.
Sterling has had to grow up quickly, but he is adapting.
“Just recently I have taken on a more professional life. I try to do more with my family, the right things,” he said. “I can’t do what every normal 18-year-old boy would want to do, like going out every weekend. But I know I have a good thing here, it’s brilliant what is happening. I can’t complain. And I want more of it.
“I’m not 100 per cent religious but my belief is strong. When the time is right, I will fully be Christian.
“My mum is a big help, a big influence in that. Faith is an important thing for me.
“Every match day I put faith in God. It’s not part of a pre-match ritual or anything, but I pray at home the day and night before. I pray most days, I try to anyway. It is one of those things where I need to get into the routine.”
As well as growing up off the pitch, Sterling says his lack of inches on it has never been a problem – even when he has come up against forbidding physical presences like Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
“The scariest to play against was Branislav Ivanovic,” he laughed. “He wasn’t dirty, the guy is just a tank! A big guy, big upper body, big lower body. A real tank. But I’ve always played against guys who are bigger than me.
“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.”
Sterling is happy to carry on getting kicked, as long as the goals and the assists continue to flow.
The cross diverted into his own net by Ryan Bennett at the weekend was the sixth goal he has created – only Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez have set up more, while the clinically lofted finish against Sunderland earlier this month was his second top flight goal.
“My goal against Sunderland was a decent finish but I should have had more earlier on this season,” he added.
“It’s always good to get goals, of course, but I’ve been unlucky a few times this season, hitting the post four or five times.
“When everyone comes to congratulate you, it’s such a good feeling. I want more of it.
“I look around the dressing room and it makes me hungry. The older players haven’t achieved what they have overnight.
“They have lived their whole life as a professional, many years always professional on and off the field. They have won Champions Leagues, other titles, and I want that.
“That is my main aim, to win trophies at this football club. I would never relax on what I have done so far. I try everyday to build day by day. I want to be remembered for things I do on the pitch.”