For most of the 2013 calendar year, Raheem Sterling was an afterthought. Promise and potential in the fall of 2012 gave way to tired legs and off-pitch distractions, and the young forward's season was effectively ended by the time winter turned to spring. He started slowly in the most recent campaign, featuring sparingly as Liverpool got off to one of their best starts in recent memory. Sterling made just his second start of the season on December 1st in the 3-1 loss at Hull City, failing to make much of an impact before coming off just after the hour mark in a match in which few in the squad impressed.
But rather than send him back to the bench immediately, Brendan Rodgers opted to hand him another start against Norwich next time out, and Sterling's response was overwhelming. Three goals in his next four matches followed, and he was an ever-present in the starting eleven for the rest of the season as Liverpool made an unlikely title run.
From the fringes to one of the key components in the league's most potent attacking setup, Sterling sparkled, and Rodgers has tipped him to carry that form into Brazil next month:
"Raheem is an offensive player, a creative player who works hard. If he is given the opportunity to play how he can play, whether at the point of a diamond or on the sides, then he could be one of the stars of the World Cup for me. Let's not forget he is a 19-year-old who has been one of the top players in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.
"He has already shown that he can play in a league that is not just a British league but a league full of world-class, international players. His best games have been against the best teams - Arsenal, United and Manchester City - so he is more than capable. If he continues to have that confidence and play with no fear he could be a really stand-out player if he is asked to play that way. That is key."
It's hard to argue with the evaluation of a man who many have credited with the player's rapid development; having excelled from the wide areas after breaking into the starting eleven over the festive period, Sterling earned the trust of his manager and showed enough flexibility and intelligence to be used throughout the forward areas. When looking back on Liverpool's incredible run in the 2014 calendar year, it is the form of 19 year old that stands out--without his progression, there's no demolition of Arsenal and Everton, or gaining the upper hand at Southampton, or the raucous scenes at Anfield when Liverpool took a 1-0 lead over Manchester City.
Caution is needed and building players up only so we can break them down and etc., of course, but hopefully Roy Hodgson heeds Rodgers' advice in turning Sterling loose in Brazil, and that the talented young forward continues his impressive run of form on the world's biggest stage.