There was a time last year--definitely in the spring, possibly even as recently as the early fall--when I wasn't quite sure that Raheem Sterling was going to be a thing in the manner in which his form at the start of the 2012-2013 season promised. That's completely unfair given his age, of course, but between the burnout he suffered after getting pushed into regular action and the off-pitch problems, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding his status in the squad.
A loan looked likely at the start of this season, with regular minutes needed for development, but a few appearances here and there have given way to a regular starting spot, one that's been earned rather than forced. The watershed moment seemed to be the performance in the loss at Hull City, in which both Sterling and Victor Moses were atrocious. Rodgers stuck with the youngster rather than the Chelsea loanee, and since that time he's been on a terrific run of form.
That's something the manager attributes to both physical and mental toughness, as well as adjustments that have seen him make significant strides on and off the pitch in the past year:
"He's one of the strongest players I've ever known - that's what people find remarkable. I don't think he's got bones in his body, it's like he's made of steel. He has an incredible physique for a young guy. He also has toughness in his brain. Mentally, he's very strong. He is improving his technique and he needs to improve his goal return but that will come. He is still so young but his performance level at the minute is at such a high level. He's happy, he's confident and he's a joy to work with.
"Raheem has got a lot of personality for a youngster. You don't make your debut at 17 for a club like Liverpool if you are shy and withdrawn. Things have happened very quickly for him in his career and I think there's been an adjustment to that. He will still have his off days and difficult moments but he's a wonderful kid. I've been really impressed with how quickly he has taken on the tactical element of the game and he has regained a lot of his focus over the last number of months."
Rodgers also highlighted the impressive display Sterling turned in against Everton midweek; it was as comprehensive a performance as we've seen, with blistering pace on the counter, smart pressing from the front, and improved distribution going forward. His finishing still leaves a little to be desired, but the 19 year old didn't look a bit out place playing alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and given the form of Liverpool's strikers, that's a hell of a compliment.
As noted by his manager, this form won't hold out forever, and days like the one at the KC Stadium will probably happen again. For now, though, he's done more than enough to secure a spot in the squad going forward, and any doubts about his ability to grow and make progress in all facets of the game should be gone.
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