Raheem Sterling has been one of the few shining lights for both Liverpool and England over the last few months. The 20-year-old is arguably the most exciting talent the country has produced since a certain Wayne Rooney rose to prominence more than 10 years ago and was recently recognised as the best young player in all of Europe after the receiving the highly prestigious Golden Boy award for 2014.
In recent weeks, his importance has become even more pronounced for Liverpool, filling a 'false 9' role while manager Brendan Rodgers frantically figures out how to guide the team back to somewhere close to the spectacular winning ways.
However, the young star's meteoric rise has brought with it significant rumours of a future away from Anfield. On two occasions over the last few months there have been leaks of contract negotiations at inappropriate and frustrating times for the fans - an unnecessary distraction leading club legend Jamie Carragher to comment, "Message to Raheem Sterling's agent, shut up feeding stories about his contract."
The club is understandably trying to tie down Sterling to a new deal, more in fitting with his increasing value, but the latest reports suggest he is unhappy with a £70,000-per-week offer and clubs like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are rumoured to be circling.
Sterling probably could command more money if he were to move to either of the European giants, but though it may be tempting it wouldn't be the right thing to do at this very early stage of his career.
This season Sterling has been of vital importance for club and country, but that has arguably only been the case because of a lack of quality colleagues on both fronts - exaggerating his impact.
He is extremely talented, but is still clearly a long way off being the finished product. As a recent example, his performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford was very good, but he should have buried at least one of the numerous chances he had that would have changed the game. Instead his lack of a clinical edge gave David de Gea the opportunity to make excellent saves and steal the headlines.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, as Phil Neville has explained already this season, they are performing exactly at their level - Europa League rather than Champions League. With Sterling seemingly destined for the very top it seems inevitable he will leave for bigger and better things at some point. However, at the moment he is far better off remaining at Liverpool's level than jumping too high and too far too quickly.
He simply isn't yet good enough to make the step up. There is no doubt that if Sterling were to move to Real Madrid he would impress when given chances, but a lack of regular playing time would do more harm than the good of playing on such a huge stage for his longer term development.
The pressure and media spotlight would also be much more intense. Speaking about a possible move for the youngster to Bayern Munich, Owen Hargreaves, a Champions League winner with the Bavarian club in 2001, recently commented, "I think he should stay at Liverpool for another four years. It will be good for his development as he is far too young mentally to make that move."
There is almost no way that he could keep the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Isco and regularly out the Real Madrid team, and Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller out of the Bayern lineup and there are several examples, though on a slightly lesser scale, that should warn Sterling off moving just yet and risk stalling his career.
In 2005, Shaun Wright-Phillips traded in a very promising career for a move to Chelsea, where he struggled for playing time and ultimately went backwards, never quite fulfilling the promise around his talent and Sterling risks following a similar trajectory if he makes a bad move now.
In more recent years Scott Sinclair traded a good career at Swansea for the bench at Manchester City and has barely played for the last two and a half years. It is telling that the damage to his career has been such that he couldn't even break into the West Brom team during a loan spell last season.
Raheem Sterling is English football's greatest talent in a number of year and he has the potential to be a world beater and represent any of the biggest clubs on the planet. Ultimately he will have to leave Liverpool to completely fulfil that, but it is important it is not now because he just isn't there yet and has too much developing still to do.
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