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Raheem Sterling Is a Breath of Fresh Air in a Sea of Stubborn Fools

15/10/2014 17:34 BST | Updated 15/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Poor Raheem Sterling. All he wanted was a night not starting in the first XI and he's bagged himself a nice media storm. England's darling is suddenly public enemy number one and all for showing some common sense. Welcome to the big time, Raheem.

In case you've been living under a rock for the last few days, a bit of background first. England played San Marino on Thursday night, a game that Sterling started before being taken off at half time. England then played Estonia on Sunday evening and Roy Hodgson let slip that the Liverpool youngster wouldn't be starting as he'd told the manager that he felt "tired".

Cue, of course, the "Tired?! I'd play for my country with two broken legs and an open head wound" gang out in force on twitter, as well as the "What about me, I wake up at six to go to work every day, this kid's got it easy" crew, who win the new Nobel Prize for Missing The Point so spectacularly that the award has now been retired. The kid's a professional athlete who has to be in peak form all year, not some desk-jockey keyboard warrior.

Let's be absolutely clear here - Sterling did the right thing by telling Hodgson that he was too tired to start. The decision was right for everyone involved - if he'd started, then he'd either have had to be taken off at half-time, wasting a valuable substitution, or he'd have had to stay on the pitch playing sub-par football and dragging the team down.

In terms of Sterling himself, it's delightfully refreshing to see an England youngster with his head screwed on. Think back to another Liverpool player who burst onto the scene in his teens - Michael Owen. Owen played everything, pushed himself through injuries and set the world alight.

He also ended up washed up and broken at Newcastle by the age of 25. This is what happens to brilliant youngsters in the England system - they get used up, mismanaged and never fulfil their potential.

Even the embodiment of the (ridiculous and damaging) "we're English and we play through the pain" mentality, Wayne Rooney, is proof of the failings. He's played at least 40 games per season since he was 17, plus England games from about the same age.

The workload, although he'll never admit it, has stopped him from becoming the player he could've been. If he'd been more carefully managed in his teens and early twenties, then we almost certainly wouldn't now have a burned out 28-year-old as England captain. England have had one good tournament from Rooney - when he was 18 years old at Euro 2004.

He should've been an exceptional player, a guaranteed 20 goals a season. Instead, he's reached the 20 goal mark twice in 12 seasons in the Premier League. He's still a good player, but oh for what could have been. The lesson to learn from Rooney isn't, as some have said, "Well look at him - he played all the time for England as a kid and never asked for a rest, and now he's captain! What's Sterling's problem?"

Rooney and Owen should be cautionary tales for English coaches to learn from - potential greats thrown in too early. There has to be some patience exercised, talents nurtured instead of thrown in early.

The ridiculous idea that Sterling is "crying out for help" and can't "hack it" was floated by Neil Ashton in the Mail, who cited Neymar as an example of a player who is inundated with off-field pressure and plays every chance he gets.

It's true, Neymar is doing brilliantly right now. So did Rooney when he was that age. So did Owen. So, more pertinently to Neymar, did Kaka and Ronaldinho.

There's a clear pattern of brilliant youngsters getting burned out and jaded by the ages of 25-28 from that exact pressure and rather than wringing his hands and bemoaning what a shame that is, Sterling is taking steps to avoid it. That isn't his success going to his head, as Alan Shearer has suggested, that's a rare maturity in a 19-year-old.

Let's just hope that the criticism doesn't get to him - lest we waste the best attacking talent of the generation. Again.

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