Sterling Caught Between Club and Country

Originally published on website.

Gary Lineker is right. Alan Shearer is wrong. It is as simple as that.

Caught in the middle of the club and country debate, Raheem Sterling has become the latest casualty of the tired dilemma.

While one ex-England striker decries the workingman’s lament and scoffs at a nineteen year-old being tired, another recognizes that teenagers are still young, moody, and developing.

Truth, Raheem Sterling is barely still a boy in what is very much a man’s world.

It should be remembered that in less than a year since Sterling’s meteoric rise towards fulfilling his potential, he couldn’t keep his own personal life out the press. It threatened to derail his fledgling career. Everyone saw the talent, but the kid was struggling, both on the pitch and in court.

With help, he clearly sorted himself out and embarked on a sensational run of form that has marked him as one of the best young players in Europe, if not the world.

Unfortunately, his star has shown so brightly in the last few months, he has arguably become the most talismanic player on the pitch for both club and country — a heavy burden for any nineteen year-old, let alone one only recently righted from the trappings of too much too soon.

Yet again, Sterling finds himself in the dailies for all the wrong reasons, only this time wrongly faulted.

England manager Roy Hodgson has played Sterling as the pawn in his ongoing row with Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, benevolently suggesting Only this time Hodgson might well have mislaid his hands on the wrong piece, mistaking his most valuable for the least.

Hodgson’s decision to reveal his conversation with the Sterling makes the player look bad to some, but makes Hodgson look only more the fool. Worse still, to hang a player out publicly (all the more unseemly as an act of praise), question the training methods of the club, and engage in this farcical back-and-forth with Rodgers makes the case against himself only stronger.

To question any high profile club willing to invest millions into their players, in an effort to maximize performance over the course of a campaign with the understanding that international duty may be included, is embarrassing, despite anyone that might support Hodgson.

Players of Sterling’s age and quality are by definition different and should be treated differently as well. Clubs can never be thrilled with the risk of releasing their prized assets, but they generally do so and with very little recourse at that.

While the debate rages on a multiple fronts, there has been no shortage of comments highlighting Hodgson’s folly.

Renowned Dutch conditioning expert and recent Wales assistant Raymond Verheijen even scoffed at Hodgson’s antiquated ignorance on facts, as well as remarking how the requirements of a still growing body differ those of a fully matured man.

While Rodgers might currently see the at the prospects of sending any of his players to St. Georges Park, he must be having quite the laugh at Hodgson. In fact, look for Rodgers to fiercely protect Sterling but also add a quip or two to invite further Hodgson stupidity in Liverpool’s upcoming press conference. It is unlikely, Hodgson will be able to avoid the bait.

Fresh off a fine World Cup, like it or not, European club football has eclipsed the international game, in terms of consequence. The money alone has made that a fact. Rupert Murdoch would not continually pursue the pipe dream of a super league were that not the case.

Plus a simple truth has endured for over a decade. If a national side does not possess any quality players from one of the top twelve or so European clubs, that national side is no good. Denying this is pure vanity.

International football continues to be important, but its power has waned in deference to the power of money and annual club contests that generate it. In the process, club versus country has been rendered a falsity.

Rather than tangling with a manager at one of those resurgent giants of European club football, at the expense of his brightest young talent, Hodgson would be wise to take a more cooperative stance. Should he continue to show his clownish colors, Hodgson may just find a number of players more often unfit for international duty. Surely, Sterling will think twice before the next call.