Raheem Sterling is a footballer. Raheem Sterling is 19 years old. Raheem Sterling has played more football in the Premier League since the beginning of last season than any other teenager bar Luke Shaw. The left-back was troubled by fitness issues in the pre-season and only made his Manchester United debut at the end of last month, having suffered hamstring problems prior to that. And people wonder why he requires any form of rest or break from non-stop football since the past 11 months.
Sterling complained of tiredness to England manager Roy Hodgson a day before before his country's Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia and was berated by some England fans and so-called pundits who seem have no idea how a teenager can ever get too tired of playing football.
The Jamaican born England international has started all matches for Liverpool this season except the one at home against Aston Villa in which he came on as a substitute and it was only the 4th game in the Premier League that the youngster (at 19 one is entitled to call him that) didn't start since he became a regular fixture in the side from December 2013, having started 23 of the final 26 games in the league last season.
For the national side, Sterling played the full 90 minutes in the matches against Norway and Switzerland in the two internationals last month before playing only the first half against San Marino on Thursday before being rested on request by Hodgson. The former Liverpool boss had to call upon the teenager with about half an hour to play when his side were in search of a goal and Sterling won the foul from which Wayne Rooney scored his free-kick.
Minutes including pre-season compared to last season
The numbers not only show the remarkable rise in Sterling's stock over the past year but also show the warning signs of him getting burned out. Currently on 87 games for his club, he is thought of being offered a new 5-year-contract worth remarkable £125,000 a week. His importance to Liverpool is something which no fan will doubt, but they have to keep in mind two other young prodigies who exploded on to the scene before running out of fuel well before they reached their mid-twenties.
Messrs Robbie Fowler and Micheal Owen. Fowler had featured for Liverpool 83 times before his 20th birthday and Owen earned his 100th cap two days before turning 20 against in the FA Cup against Huddersfield Town.
Minutes played by teenagers this season
Minutes played by teenagers last season
Sterling has played 1,105 minutes in all competitions this season having played only 1,037 minutes from the beginning of last season till Christmas. Actually it won't be surprising if he was advised by Brendan Rodgers to tell Hodgson about his tiredness because the England manager forced striker Daniel Sturridge to train on a scheduled rest day ignoring the two-day post-match recovery time which the Irishman wanted. The two managers have a long standing feud on the club-country issue that goes back to last year when Sturridge was injured after being rushed back from injury by Hodgson. Rodgers has acknowledged that Sterling will need to be carefully managed and him getting burned out is a valid concern.
From 16 September till 4 October, in a span 18 days, Sterling was on the pitch for the entirety of six games for Liverpool which included 120 minutes of the mammoth penalty shootout with Middlesbrough. In truth, to the naked eye, his weak penalty was the sign of an exhausted player. Suddenly his first touch deserted him; suddenly he didn't have that yard of pace which enabled him to glide past fullbacks with ease.
Basel away was one of his worst games and it was down to being jaded and in need of rest more than anything. Yet he played the full game against West Brom three days later, where he coolly laid the ball for Jordan Henderson to steer home the winner.
Total #EPL minutes played by Raheem Sterling: 12/13 1,748 | 13/14 2,218 | Total minutes played in 2 months of 14/15: 1,110
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) October 13, 2014
Since turning 19 on 8/12/13, Raheem Sterling has played 3,473 minutes of competitive football. More than an entire #EPL season. Sustainable?
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) October 13, 2014
Sterling in 2014 has established himself as one of the key players for both his club and country and his managers have him down as one of the first names on the team sheet. In the three matches that England played in the World Cup, he was only behind Rooney, Gerrard, Sturridge and Cahill in the minutes played.
He has found support from a source that would surprise most Liverpool fans. QPR defender Rio Ferdinand took to twitter to defender Sterling and claimed that England players are generally too proud to sit out of training or a match when tired, jeopardising their fitness in the long run and that someone like Rooney would have gone into international tournaments fresher had he rested at the right times throughout seasons.
He also gave an example of former United teammate Carlos Tevez who would sit out of training when he felt tired and instead conserved his energies for matchdays. It is also a well known fact that Sir Alex Ferguson gave Cristiano Ronaldo sufficient rest during a course of season when he was young and that helped in the Portuguese developing insane fitness levels. Same with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville etc.
Lastly, people who wonder how a teenager can be tired need to look at the bigger picture. Leave getting burned out aside and think of the pressure of performing in every game for both club and country. Think of being in the spotlight because of untrue media attention regarding his personal life which no doubt affected his performances in 2013. Think of becoming one of the main players in a title charge with his club who came so close only for an unlucky slip to spoil everything. Think of representing your country in the biggest stage of them all a couple of weeks after the season ended. And then pre-season beginning almost immediately after that. The rigours and demands of modern football are greater than ever before.
Its effects, physically as well as mentally and emotionally are sometimes not seen by the naked eye and they can be quite damaging to a professional footballer, especially someone who won't turn 20 for another two months.