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In the past two weeks club football has been placed to one side, and instead the focus has been placed on international games – mainly the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifications.
As is now well-known by all football fans, England were placed in Group E, arguably one of the least competitive groups, with the other participants being Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino.
The Three Lions had two fixtures in the aforementioned time period. The first one was a smooth and effortless 5-0 win against a San Marino side whose team consisted primarily of amateur footballers. The second one was a hard-fought encounter with Estonia, which was won by a Wayne Rooney free-kick in the 74th minute.
However, after the game in Talinn, the attention was not on England’s lacklustre performance; it was on Raheem Sterling’s decision to ask Roy Hodgson to sit on the bench because “he felt was too tired.” This caused an enormous and controversial reaction among the football community. The burning question is – were people like Gary Lineker, Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand right to justify his choice or was Alan Shearer right to criticise him?
To answer this question, the best place to start is to look at the numbers. Last season, Sterling played 37 games for Liverpool, in which he scored 10 goals. On top of that, he represented the national team, including playing all three games at the World Cup. In the 2012/13 season he played 36 games for the Reds. This season he has already played six games for the team at Anfield and three for his national team. These clearly demonstrate someone who has been pushed to the limit over the last few seasons – this is before we remember that Sterling is only 19! Judging from Sterling’s age, I completely support Gary Lineker’s opinion on the topic: “Raheem Sterling is a teenager. Teenagers do get tired and even moody. He’s young, still developing, we should cut him some slack.”
In my view, one of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a football manager is to overuse your players; it only leads to burnout and fatigue. Consequently, the players are under-performing when it matters most. As Rio Ferdinand said: “Sterling – tired, fair play to him. English players are normally too proud to do that unlike our foreign friends.” He gave as an example Carlos Tevez, who would often not train with Manchester United immediately after returning from international duty.
Furthermore, I believe that one of the main reasons for injuries is playing too many games too frequently; indeed, with today’s game played at such a relentless pace, the need for rest is even higher. For this reason, many players are unable to participate in major tournaments. For example, if we look at the last World Cup, it was missed by stars such as Riccardo Montolivo, Marco Reus, Frank Ribery, Christian Benteke and Jay Rodriguez. These are all players that narrowly missed the tournament because of injuries that occurred little before the tournament began. I cannot help but think that playing 40-60 games per season has something to do with those injuries, so Sterling cannot be blamed for being concerned for his physical health!
To return to the matter at hand, I do believe that Raheem Sterling has not been used properly by both Liverpool and England. For instance, he played 120 minutes against Middlesborough in the League Cup and then he was left on the bench against Aston Villa. What is even more shocking is that he played against San Marino, when this was the most convenient chance to rest him!
Some people may argue that he should have started against Estonia because he is England’s best player at the moment. I totally disagree with such a statement because in such situations, the policy of rotation should kick in and other people should step up and deliver. Besides, Sterling even had a significant impact on the Estonia game, winning the free-kick that Rooney converted to take all three points, not long after coming on.
There are indeed further issues with Sterling’s request. Why did Roy Hodgson share this private conversation with the public? Many believe it was a poor decision that it hurts the players’ trust in him. In addition, has Sterling been pressured by Brendan Rodgers to sit out the game in order to be fresh for his club’s fixtures?
Either way, many believe that Sterling had the right to ask such a thing – because of his age and more importantly, because he is the only person that knows when he can perform at the required level to be at his best. It is ridiculous to criticise Sterling based on comparisons with other, “normal” professionals, like Alan Shearer did.
In conclusion, I feel that Raheem Sterling’s decision should be respected because even though the life of a footballer is at times glamorous and rewarding, it can also be very challenging and demanding, especially for a 19-year-old kid. In other words, I ask you to do what Sterling requested himself – to excuse him for being human.