Wednesday 21 August 2019

'Amazing boy' Sterling has not even reached his peak yet - Rodgers

For Sterling, top spot would mean a second Premier League winners' medal and would deny his and Rodgers' former club their first title of the Premier League era. Photo: Victoria Haydn/Man City via Getty Images
For Sterling, top spot would mean a second Premier League winners' medal and would deny his and Rodgers' former club their first title of the Premier League era. Photo: Victoria Haydn/Man City via Getty Images

Steve Madeley and Mark Critchley

Raheem Sterling was just 17 when he told Brendan Rodgers he wanted to be one of the best players in the world.

Rodgers had heard it before from other teenagers. But with Sterling, he knew it meant more.

"It was different," said Rodgers, who gave Sterling his Liverpool debut. "You could tell.

"Other people say that but they aren't committed to it, mentally or physically. He was.

"He was a young player who wanted to do that, he wanted to be that.

"But he was someone who was going to do the work, he wasn't just expecting it because of his talent.

"He has incredible talent but this was a boy who looked after his body and his life to ensure that he could give himself every chance to do it."

The men will meet again on Monday when Rodgers' Leicester take on Sterling's Manchester City in a game that could have a huge bearing on the destination of the Premier League title.

For Sterling, top spot would mean a second Premier League winners' medal and would deny his and Rodgers' former club their first title of the Premier League era.

It would represent further justification of his decision to leave Anfield in 2015 for City in an effort to fulfil the potential his former manager saw the first time they met.

"We developed him and he respected that," said Rodgers.

"But his next challenge and ambition was to move on and I'm so happy with how well he has done. He's mature now.

"For Raheem it was never about money. If it was about money he could have stayed at Liverpool. It wasn't about that. It was about being the best he can be.

"And in that moment in time there was an opportunity to go to Manchester City, where they had top-class players.

"He's gone in there and developed and become a winner."

Sterling's road to the top has been a winding one, littered with controversy and doubt, and Rodgers admits he watched with frustration as the England forward was criticised in his early days at the Etihad Stadium.

"He's an amazing boy," said Rodgers.

"It was hard to watch from the outside, seeing some of the criticism that he was getting. I was away from it, not in the league.

"But he was an amazing young player. What I loved about Raheem was that for a young boy he knew what he wanted to be.

"He wanted to be one of the best players in the world at that age. And that was where he was unique, because sometimes the British players may not have that ambition.

"Off the pitch he's an incredible kid. He's very loving and supportive of his family.

"He's taken his game now to a level where he's clearly one of the best players in the world.

"He's not even near his peak yet. In terms of being 24 he's still at that asset age and once he gets to 28 or 29 he'll have played so many more games and had so many more experiences.

"But his experiences now are going to make him even better.

"The big thing with Raheem is he is hungry to be the best he can be and he's been like that since he was a boy.

"I see that hunger in his game up to today.

"He keeps putting himself there and he's just got that in-built game to be the best he can be and he will continue to grow and develop."

Newcastle and Leicester have former Liverpool managers at the helm - with Rafael Benitez hosting his former club tonight before Rodgers travels to City on Monday.

Neither have much left to play for during these final weeks of the season, but Guardiola dismissed the suggestion that they will lack motivation.

"That's not going to happen," Guardiola said.

"The manager and the players, when they are in front of the people, they want to make a good performance.

"The question makes no sense, forget about it. I cannot imagine that the Leicester players will come here for their holidays.

"Maybe they have a chance to finish seventh, depending on results.

"It's the same. Brendan and Rafa were in Liverpool in the past but they'll want to win. (© Independent News Service)

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