Kenny Dalglish stressed that Raheem Sterling would not have made the game-day squad if Craig Bellamy had been healthy. But try as he might, the LFC manager couldn’t dampen the excitement surrounding Sterling’s first-team debut on Saturday.
Although Liverpool lost 2-1 to Wigan, the silver lining in the cloud was the fact that another young player broke into the first team. The 17-year-old Sterling replaced Dirk Kuyt, played the final seven minutes of the game, and brought a buzz to a previously subdued Anfield crowd.
Sterling has shone with the reserves and Academy teams for much the season. In 17 games for the LFC reserves, he’s scored six goals and added five assists. He also led the LFC U-19s to the semifinal of the inaugural NextGen Series.
Many are predicting a bright future for the Jamaican-born England U-17 international, but Dalglish astutely warns observers to curb their enthusiasm. The veteran manager has seen the careers of many young players crumble under the weight of out-sized expectations, and he told the Telegraph that he does not want that to happen to Sterling or any other young player at the club.
“You just need to draw your horses back a bit,” Dalglish said. “He [Sterling] wouldn’t have been there if we weren’t in the position we were in. It is nice to see the kids get a game but it is also better for us to look after them and manage them.
“We are not going to throw kids in and destroy them, but it is nice to see them on the pitch.”
It’s doubtful Sterling will see too much playing time between now and the rest of the season, but he can help the club in a moment of need. With Bellamy hurt, the Reds are suffering from a lack of natural wingers. Stewart Downing is the only natural wide player, and Sterling can provide balance, speed and unpredictability.
Jon Flanagan,19, started Saturday’s game at right back. He told LiverpoolFC.tv that he was happy to see a fellow Academy product getting a chance to show his stuff in front of a full house at Anfield.
“I was delighted for Raheem,” he said. “Kenny gave the young kids a chance again, which is great for the club. It shows what we’ve got coming through.”