Kolo Toure has singled Raheem Sterling out as one of Liverpool’s current standout performers — and backed the youngster to enjoy a sparkling career in the game.
Sterling now has nine consecutive starts under his belt since returning to the lineup in December, and the winger was instrumental in the Reds’ most recent success.
The 19-year-old took matters into his own hands at Anfield against Oldham Athletic on Sunday, turning in a star performance during the second half.
Sterling demonstrated all the pace, poise and trickery that marked him as a talent during his time at the club’s academy, hurtling towards the byline at any opportunity.
He picked out Iago Aspas for Liverpool’s first before forcing James Tarkowski to put through his own net for 2-0 — and afterward, Toure expressed his admiration.
“For me, at the moment, Raheem is one of the best players in our team,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “I play against him every day in training, and every time I go up against him, it’s always tough.
“He can beat any player in this league with his pace and skill. He’s very strong and compact. He works so hard for the team, and this boy certainly has a very bright future.”
Prior to lining up against Hull at the KC Stadium in December, Sterling had started just two of his side’s 15 games in all competitions.
However, the England international has scored three times, against Norwich City, Tottenham Hotspur and Cardiff City, in his impressive run in the lineup.
Toure says an extended stay in the lineup has given Sterling confidence, and he refused to play down the importance of the attacker’s contribution over the last month.
“He’s playing more games now, and when you play a number of games in a row, you get a lot of confidence,” Toure said. “For a young player like that to be playing at that level is amazing.
“Raheem always puts the effort into his training and always gives 100 percent in every game. You can see the impact he’s having on games, which is very important for us.”
Victory over the Latics means Liverpool will now face either AFC Bournemouth or Burton Albion in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Toure was an unused substitute when Arsenal won the tournament in 2003, featured when it edged Manchester United on penalties in 2005 and got his hands on the trophy once again when Manchester City was crowned champions in 2011.
He’s targeting a return to Wembley come May this year — and Toure is adamant an extended FA Cup run will not have any adverse effects on the Reds’ Barclays Premier League campaign.
“I am passionate about the FA Cup,” he said. “It is historic. I have won it three times, and it’s a great competition to play in.
“I love the FA Cup. We want to try to win it, and we are really happy to still be in it. It’s really important for us to do well in it. To play in the final again would be amazing.”
The Reds’ priority is securing UEFA Champions League qualification this term, but Toure says an extended Cup run wouldn’t have an adverse effect on their league campaign.
“The players here are very hungry and want to play games,” he said. “I think the squad is strong enough to cope. At training everyone is working really hard — young players and the more experienced players.
“We all want to play and do our best. I don’t think having a good cup run would be a problem for the league.
“It can be tough if you are in Europe and you have to play a game every few days. But we haven’t had too many games.
“To have the FA Cup is really important, and we’ll give it 100 percent, as we all want to do well in it.”