Rodgers backs Sterling amid court concerns
Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has been criticised by a magistrate after he failed for a third time to show up in court to answer assault charges.
The 18-year-old England international is accused of common assault, after a 27-year-old woman, who is known to the player, suffered "slight" facial injuries during an incident in the Toxteth area on November 2.
Sterling did not attend the hearing at Liverpool Magistrates' Court yesterday but was allowed to enter a formal 'not-guilty' plea to the charges through his solicitor, Mick Hogan.
The player had failed to appear at two previous hearings in relation to the incident and district judge Lloyd issued a warning to him that the trial would go ahead without him on May 20. "I am sure he understands that he will need to attend," she said. "If he doesn't the trial will proceed without him."
Earlier in the short hearing, district judge Lloyd questioned his absence, saying: "It would be much more useful if he was here. But anyway, there it is. We have got what we have got."
Sterling was initially summonsed to Liverpool Youth Court as the incident happened when he was 17, but he turned 18 in December and the matter was transferred to the adult courts.
The Jamaica-born star made his senior international debut for England last November against Sweden and is likely to be one of the the key players for England U-21s in the European Championship in Israel from June 5-18.
Sterling has earned plaudits for his performances for Liverpool this season, although his form in recent matches has dipped and he has been being a substitute for the last two league matches having been an virtual ever-present in the first half of the campaign.
Suggestions he is suffering from burnout were quickly knocked down yesterday by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, although he conceded it was inevitable that such a young player might experience a drop-off in performance.
"This is a real tough league for an experienced player so it is no surprise that for a young kid that happens to him," said Rodgers. "I just have to protect him. I have not mentioned burnout at all. What I know is that if he never kicks a ball for the rest of the season, he has had an outstanding season."
Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool's new Brazilian winger, believes he is answering concerns over whether he has the physique to cope with the robust nature of English football.
Coutinho looks young enough to play in the U-15s. Slightly built and somewhat shy in the unfamiliar surroundings, he is another Anfield recruit purchased with an eye on the next five years rather than five months.
This evening offers a chance to see how he copes with that most unscientific of barometers of an overseas player's capabilities: a chilly night in Wigan.
Coutinho scored on his first Anfield start against Swansea and he is sure his nimble feet and quick thought will overcome his physical disadvantages.
"I need to improve my muscles because they are still quite small at the moment," Coutinho said. "In Brazil, the Premier League is followed more than any other by most people and everyone says it is the toughest league in the world.
"The difference I've noticed already is the pace is so much higher. I always knew the type of football here would be much harder, but I will try to adapt as quickly as possible."
Julio Cesar, the QPR goalkeeper who was a team-mate at Inter Milan, says Coutinho is the 'golden boy' of Brazilian football. Coutinho, who joined Liverpool in January, says he is hoping to use the move to establish himself as a regular international before next summer's World Cup.
The obvious question is – why would such a lauded youngster choose a move to Liverpool when it is unlikely to guarantee Champions League football?
"Liverpool is known around the world for being a huge club for all the titles they've won," he said.
"The one that comes to mind is the Champions League final in 2005 when they turned the game around. Every time you come into training every day you see the European Cup on display and that gives you motivation."
Coutinho's career remains one of promise still unfulfilled. A prodigy at Vasco da Gama, he was signed by Inter Milan at 16 (moving two years later) but was not helped by regular changes of coach. He impressed on loan at Espanyol last year, but at the first hint of disillusionment setting in this season, Liverpool – who had been monitoring the player since the summer – pounced. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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