The age old debate about when a player is truly ready to take on the rigours of international duty has again raised its head this week. Ahead of their World Cup 2014 qualifier against the Ukraine at Wembley, England called up Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling to the full squad, after the withdrawal of Tottenham winger Theo Walcott. Sterling, who only made his first Premier League start back on August 26th against Manchester City, has been one of the bright sparks in Liverpool’s stuttering start to the new season. After impressing so much through the pre-season, the pacey winger looks to have set himself up in the position of being one of the promising and exciting attacking talents that England has seen for a long time.
But at just 17 years of age, can Raheem Sterling be ready? England manager Roy Hodgson has been leaning towards selecting players who are in form, as opposed to just making selection choices based on past reputations. Sterling’s eye-catching early season form has earned him a call up to the England squad, but is there more than meets the eye to the move by Roy Hodgson? Perhaps, because Sterling is still eligible to play for his country of birth, Jamaica. Depsite Hodgson denying that Sterling’s call up was simply to put an end to any Jamaican interest in the player, Sterling’s call up could have consequences in the matter.
As soon as Sterling steps onto the pitch as a full international for England, it will remove any legibility claims from Jamaica. So even if the youngster just has a run out for a minute at the end of a game for the Three Lions, he will be England’s property. Even though Sterling has represented England at the U16, U17 and U19 level, he is still eligible to play for Jamaica until he plays at the full international level. Jamaican coach Theodore Whitmore had been hoping that Sterling, born on the Caribbean Island, would consider playing for his country of birth, but England coach Hodgson said that he simply hoped that the lure of and passion of pulling on an England shirt would be enough to make up Sterling’s mind.
With the call up to the full England squad in the 2014 World cup qualifier, the deal looks pretty settled. The Liverpool winger is not exactly going to refuse the selection, nor refuse to step off the bench and play should he be called upon. So the matter looks settled. Sterling has been called a precocious and exciting talent, and Hodgson consulted with Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers about Sterling’s readiness. Rodgers stated that he had no concerns over Sterling’s temperament nor about the youngster, who does not turn eighteen until early December, being fast tracked quickly.
The rushing of England youngsters has been something which has courted criticism before. Because English young talent find it hard to break through into the Premier League, something which Roy Hodgson has cited as being a problem, any glimmer of promise from an English teenager is pounced upon. The temptation to throw young players into the lions den too quickly is there, usually out of desperation. There is not the same youth development set up in the English game as there are in successful breeders of young talent like Spain and Belgium. Rushing players too quickly, asking too much of raw talent without giving them the time and experience can often be detrimental to players.
Sterling is the next young English player under the microscope. The obvious comparisons to former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes, who was also born in Jamaica will continue. Is Sterling ready though? His presence in the full squad is likely to be nothing more than a way to soak up the atmosphere of what could lie ahead for him. It is simply a matter of letting the player know that he could have a big international future. The World Cup is just two years away, but those could be the most important two years of Sterling’s career.
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