Friday, 21 September 2012

Raheem Sterling - A hypothesis for England.

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling got called up to the full England squad last week owing to injuries, and  did give most people a jolt either because of his low name recognition, or consternation about what the 17 year old  signed by Rafa Benitez represents.  I make my assertions on this blog with all due respect to Jamaica, the youngster's land of birth. I am not trying to be presumptuous here, the lad has the option to play for Jamaica, and sources say that remains his mother's wish. Anyhow, if he does end up choosing to play for England, he surely would open up the prospects of England having a sort of weapon they have not had in their armoury for a very long time.  I remember watching a certain Ashley Cole play for Arsenal F.C eleven years ago. He had just returned from a loan spell at Crystal Palace, and straight into the Arsenal team in the 2000 / 01 season ; I had no doubt when i first watched him that season he was going to play for England. There was such effervescence to his game, that made predicting he would have a successful career pretty easy. I have not seen an England International prospect replicate that sentiment in me, till Raheem Sterling came along in the last  four weeks. His performances against Manchester City, Arsenal, and and Sunderland have been sterling indeed.

QUALITIES : Like many of his ilk, Raheem Sterling has been started out by the manger  on the flanks. The assumption no doubt is that given his velocity in full flight, he would tear full backs to shreds. I reckon that's serving the youngster half measures. He certainly is no clone of Theo Walcott. He has above all, two outstanding qualities - Immaculate Close Control of the ball. And secondly,  what many great players have : an ability to look up in the heat of the moment, to spot a team mate in a better position, and make a pass at the right time. It's referred to as awareness. Typically, Players at 17 have these elements in relatively much lower doses. Anytime you watch Raheem Sterling play, observe how he mixes the technique of close ball control, interspaced application of velocity, and the highly sought after stealth of keeping his marker(s) guessing his next move ; he works on the defender with shimmies and feints, with that split second glance for a team mate in the box, before the delivery. The Liverpool player is tactically top notch. In each of the three games he started this season, he would have easily scored an 8/10 in  terms of tactical application. He was hardly out of place in his efforts because he played so much for the team. Playing on the right or left flank, he's excelled. In the Liverpool V Arsenal game, he performed better than Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the battle of the teenagers. Overall, using the ball better, and playing to a terrific rhythm. How about the role he played in Luis Suarez's goal against Sunderland last weekend. It had a lot to do with patience and poise,  before delivery.

ENGLAND : I have followed England Long enough to know about upstarts. More over, Raheem Sterling has only starred for four weeks, not four seasons. His development is nascent, and unfolding, but there are times in this game you have to build a very quick hypothesis around players of special qualities, and certainly pray they go on to fulfill your hopes, and make what was a mere hypothesis, an applicable theory. Has anyone wondered why England has rarely produced a number 10 ? Like currently Germany have in Mesut Ozil ; Spain have in Fabrigas ; Belgium have Eden Hazard ;  Argentina have Lionel Messi.  The Italians eulogize such players, and they refer to them as the "the fantasy player". The last time England produced such a talent, they were playing in the world cup semi finals, ( never since then, Italia '90 ) he's name is Paul Gascoigne. Trust me, it's an illusion to see Raheem Sterling as a player for the flanks, long term. If he decides to play for England, he is naturally suited to play behind the striker, in-between midfield and attack. He is a team player,  He has a low centre of gravity, tenacious, has a bag of dribbling skills, possess direct running power, and equally important - plays as a creative and inventive player. Raheem Stirling has the talent and potential to make things happen through the middle. England have lacked such a commodity for so long ; overly dependent on the flanks, hence the everlasting struggle to break down the opposition ; and the scandalous failure to retain the ball. Everyone nags about it, but the key solution is having players with the technical flair for that to happen, and building a team around players of such genre. If England are to cure the possession problem, players good and comfortable in possession have to be fast tracked into the team. It's a benchmark of modern teams to play in a concerted format, particularly in the middle. England need revamp it's playing methods. It's sterile and antiquated. When the likes of Gerrard and Lampard are done in a few years, fresh impetus is needed. An infusion of players with the aura associated with the latest paradigms in the game.

Raheem Stirling can be the progenitor of such players to the England team. He may be only 17, but i won't fear playing him in the number 10 role. I am not saying he eradicates all of the national team's woes, but an emerging talent like this must spark fresh thinking, and enhance doctrines, particularly to the England coaching staff. The Liverpool Lad primarily represents a vision to be built, and not a panacea of the current ills. Mr. Roy Hodgson need be clear on that when he sends the next letter of invitation to Raheem Stirling. His playing and England career mustn't be a false start nor contaminated by the drudgery of the past and the unrefined of the present.