Coming off something of a revelatory season that started on the bench and ends with him one of the first names on the Liverpool teamsheet, 19-year-old Raheem Sterling suddenly finds himself the next big thing in English football. He also increasingly looks a lock not only to make England's World Cup squad but to start this summer in Brazil.
All of that brings with it a few new demands in the life of a young, budding superstar footballer. Like having to pose with ice cream cones and oversized sunglasses for a Men's fashion magazine while answering lobbed softball questions about life, the universe, and everything. And football. Mainly, though somewhat tangentially, football.
"Just playing my natural game and not being too shy," was his response when asked how he's risen to World Cup lock in a matter of months. "I used to be a lot more greedy than I am now—now I’m a bit more for the team. As a young player, you can’t be going in thinking you can dribble past everyone. Someone is bound to slide-tackle you or give you a dead leg."
Young footballers aren't the only ones who fall prey to attempting—and, more often than not, failing—to do the spectacular in order to impress when simple and smart is what's actually called for. One only has to think back to Joe Cole seeking to impress Liverpool fans by trying to beat the same defender six or seven times for a textbook example of what not to do.
Mostly, though, with his position in the Liverpool and England teams increasingly secure, Sterling seems confident enough to do the right thing rather than the fancy thing. Though he admits that when the situation calls for it he's certainly not averse to throwing in a few flashy tricks to entertain the crowd and unsettle the opposition.
"I used to do loads of unnecessary tricks, that’s why they used to call me Heemio," said Sterling, revealing a thankfully since-shed nickname earned by way of attempting to pattern his game after ex-Barcelona trickster Ronaldinho at an early age. "I’ve matured a lot since then, but whenever there needs to be a trick I’ll throw one in."
Tricks if necessary but not necessarily tricks. Sounds like a plan. Especially if it ends with Sterling and his teammates lifting the Premier League trophy in a couple of weeks.