It's been a busy--at times unfortunately so--year for Raheem Sterling, who began last season as a regular in the starting eleven in a perilously thin Liverpool squad, impressing along the way and earning a call-up to the England senior squad. As the minutes mounted, though, it became clear that he was in need of cutting back, and as the calendar turned the young winger saw less and less time on the pitch, essentially getting shut down for much of the spring.
Issues off the pitch cropped up as the year progressed, and he's spent most of 2013 on the periphery rather than in the spotlight, save for substitute appearances and a emergency call-up to the England squad when Roy Hodgson's squad was hit with injuries. Aside from that, the 18 year old has been a background figure, sliding into a role more consistent with his age and development.
As such we haven't heard much from him other than the odd quote or two, but today he's given a wider-ranging interview about his place in the squad, asserting that he's willing to wait despite not featuring in his ideal role:
"I've not played as much as I'd have liked to, but the team are doing well and that's the most important thing at this moment in time. Hopefully I'll get my chance and hopefully I'll take it. But the team has been great so far this season. My contribution has been coming off the bench and having to defend more than I'm used to. But as long as the team is winning, that's the most important thing. I'm not in a rush."
"I've had to play right wing-back a few times this season. It's not my favourite position, but if the team ask me to do a job, then no problem. I'm more than comfortable and happy to play there. The manager said this formation [3-5-2] suits the players we have and it does because we've got two full-backs in Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, who can fly down the wings on both sides. Obviously they can defend as well, so it suits the players who we have fit and ready at the moment. If one of the wing-backs is not fully fit, I'm more than happy to fill that role. I've got to do a lot more defending than usual. But even before that I was defending quite a bit. Now, if you come across a tricky winger, it's even more defending."
Which I guess is fair enough, especially if you spent most of last season as the brightest young talent for club and country and earned yourself a shiny new contract along the way. But there's also reality, and reality is that he's 18 years old in a squad with players who fit the chosen system more effectively, and waiting is sort of the gig when you're still a teenager. Football might tell us otherwise, though football's not exactly reality in its current incarnation.
Hopefully Sterling's words about patience and commitment are genuine, as he did earn top billing last season for reasons other than injuries in Liverpool's squad. If he heeds his manager's advice about focusing on the football and keeping his head straight, he can be a very, very good player, and one that Liverpool will themselves be happy to have waited for.