I once saw two septuagenarian women fighting at a bus stop. It wasn't a verbal altercation, you understand. It was a vicious, clawing, feral affray with both participants screeching malicious maledictions at each other amidst a maelstrom of flailing brollies and headscarves. Of course, the decent thing to do would be to intervene, but the hypnotic horror of the spectacle rendered me inert, repelled yet fascinated.
This paradoxical mix of emotions is what I experience every time I see a picture of Raheem Sterling's new 'do. It is a shocking affair which, when added to his burgeoning mutton-chop side-burns, constitutes one of the most magnificently awful looks I've ever beheld. The young man, who has experimented unwisely with a 1920s 'Conk' hairstyle in the past, is now sporting a kind of homage to the Teddy Boys of the '50s. It's all very confusing and distressing for a shaven-headed forty year old Irishman.
Thankfully, with his injury fully rehabilitated, Sterling is free to draw attention back to his footballing skills, as he takes a full part in the club's pre-season tour of the Pacific Rim. Indeed, last Saturday, he linked with new boy Iago Aspas to claim a fine goal in the 4-0 dismantling of Preston North End as the team began its series of preparatory games ahead of the new campaign.
Signed by Rafael Benitez in 2010, as a prodigiously talented kid, Sterling has not disappointed those who had predicted great things for the young attacker when his footballing career was in its embryonic stage. He had represented his country at U16, U17, U19, U21 and senior level by the age of eighteen and, after a handful of impressive substitute appearances towards the end of Kenny Dalglish's reign, circumstances conspired to make him a starter at the beginning of last season. The youngster was streaky but acquitted himself with great credit before a combination of injury and loss of form saw him miss the conclusion of the campaign.
"There's still a lot of work to be done which I thought I should have done last season, only for my injury," admits Sterling, showing he clearly understands he will not be an automatic starter. "I'm just looking forward to working hard in training and in games to try and show the manager what I can do to try and cement a place. Last season was a good start. The manager gave me a chance to go out on the pitch and show what I can do but then my injury started kicking-in and my performances weren't the best. It was obviously taking a toll on me, so the manager took me out to protect me."
Rodgers seems to be working wonders with the old indoctrination. Several players, including Daniel Sturridge, have given interviews lately which could have been mouthed by the man himself, as though he were a ventriloquist. Earlier, I had a discussion with @lenikdot on Twitter in which I ventured that the Northern Irishman has an intimidatory toughness about his appearance and stature which works on a primal male level. I felt that scariness was only increased by his recent shedding of a few pounds whereas her feeling was that Rodgers is more effective as the 'chubby papa' who is avuncular yet strict. Either way, his message is getting across to the troops and Sterling is thinking about making changes to his game.
"It's a work in progress, but hopefully on the tour I can show the manager that I can be part of the team," opined the Jamaican-born forward. "The game in the Premier league is obviously fast-paced so I'll be looking to use my pace but also out-think defenders. I've got to mix-up my game as well which means not always dribbling and taking a few less touches. Everyone can see I like running with the ball, so that could make it easy for defenders to read me. That's why I need to mix it up."
Sterling's observations on the adjustments he needs to make to his game, whether self-discovered or coached, are hugely heartening and pleasingly sapient. His determination to vary his style speaks to an ambition that few would question and yet there is evidence of enough humility to assuage fears of the early successes going to his head. Tragically, his head is exactly where that worrisome pompadour currently resides. For the love of Fowler, have a word with him 'chubby papa.'