In a generation where players hardly ask out of a match even with the most serious of injuries, it’s quite out of place to see a footballer pull himself out of the starting eleven due to fatigue. However, this is exactly what manager Roy Hodgson was told by Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling before England’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia.
Many pundits are criticizing the decision of the 19 year old winger to take a breather from the arduous schedule he has played so far this season. It seems as if they’re unable to fathom a footballer asking NOT to start a match. At it’s most basic, Raheem could have potentially felt that him starting the match and being fatigued would hinder the squad in their attempt at winning a crucial away match. Most who are cynical believe there is more to it than that.
Even if we do not want to think that reasoning was not the case, we must admit that there is a huge weight placed upon the young man’s shoulder. Burnout is a distinct possibility for him in the next couple of years given the amount of games he will have to partake with Liverpool and his national team. Additionally, being the player that he is, constantly driving directly at defenders with top speed and agility, day in day out, he needs extended recovery time to perform at optimal power. If he continues to be over-used as he has this season, he could be heading down the same road as many of his former English compatriots.
The expectations of being England’s next great hope can lead to Sterling being played more than he should in their quest for major trophies. Many English supporters are not as naïve as before when it comes to their chances, however they would like to at least be on the cusp and any prospect coming through will get the superstar hype from the media and the public alike.
Unfortunately for Sterling and other young footballers, they do not get the chance to grow and mature as footballers from Spain, Germany, or France.
Many of the European powers have had their players go through a drawn out process of maturing. Starting with playing in major youth international tournaments, they then gain experience within club football, whether it is through loan to a smaller club or managing the young player’s games with a bigger club. When the time is right, they are blooded into regulars with their club and national team set-up. It’s not as big of a hurry to get these players playing heavy minutes with club and national team at an early age, thus risking burnout.
Being fair to England, however, we’ve not see the abundance of young talent evident in Spain, Germany, etc. So expecting the genius of players like Sterling or Everton’s Ross Barkley to go through the natural maturing process is all but unrealistic in this nation.
Where does this leave Raheem Sterling? The player has pressure coming from all sides, between his club wanting him to rest for a key run of fixtures to his family and friends telling him that an injury could cause a delay in a possible pay raise. Also breathing in his ear is the public who wants him to perform at a high level for his country. It seems a lose-lose situation for young Raheem Sterling. He can soldier on and risk injury, or take a more intelligent approach to his body and think long term while being continuously pressured by the public. Understanding the expectations for him and managing his own minutes might just be best for the young man and his development. He still is not the finished product and trying to fight through fatigue or injuries could cause more harm than not.
It is easy to be envious of the position the player is in, especially being a gifted footballer at this young of age. However we still need to be careful of over-use, this tends to lead to injuries and with pace and power, it could lead to him slowing down and being a shell of himself at a relatively early age. It’s much easier to join the graveyard of players with tremendous promise than it is to be a world great. Ask Michael Owen.