With his dazzling skills and brilliant goals, Raheem Sterling has been one of the most exciting and talked-about soccer players in England over the last two seasons.
Recently, though, it’s his off-the-field activities that have been grabbing the headlines.
Two weeks after giving an unsanctioned interview saying he had rejected a new Liverpool deal worth 100,000 pounds ($146,000) a week, the 20-year-old Sterling appeared on the front page of two big-selling British newspapers in the space of three days. Pictures in The Sunday Mirror apparently showed him smoking a shisha pipe while images in Tuesday’s edition of The Sun showed him apparently inhaling nitrous oxide, a legal high commonly known as ”laughing gas” or ”hippie crack.”
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Later Tuesday, the Daily Mail published pictures on its website of Sterling and teammate Jordon Ibe appearing to hold shisha pipes. The pictures were believed to have been taken in a London bar earlier this season, according to the newspaper.
The controversies haven’t affected his on-the-field displays – he scored on his last appearances for England as well as for Liverpool on Monday – but Sterling finds himself at the center of increasing negativity at a time when he should be celebrated for being one of the shining lights of the English game.
”Young players make mistakes,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. ”As long as they learn from them, that is what is important.”
While Sterling produces the goods on the field, Liverpool’s fans will continue to back their most crowd-pleasing player. He scored a superb opening goal in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Newcastle on Monday and was given a big ovation when he was substituted near the end.
It was a bit different inside Anfield on Friday, when Sterling was heckled by some fans as he modeled Liverpool’s new uniform at a launch ceremony.
According to reports in the British media, a question-and-answer session involving Sterling and players was interrupted when Sterling was asked his view on the uniform. ”Make sure we see you in it next season,” came a shout from the crowd, provoking cheers from other spectators.
Sterling told the BBC, in an interview Liverpool wasn’t informed about, that negotiations with the club over a new contract are on hold until the offseason and that he would have signed a fresh deal if it had been offered last year. Sterling said he would not be discussing extending his contract, which runs through June 2017, until the end of the season – no matter how much money Liverpool offered.
Rodgers said he was surprised at those comments – and he was also given a shock late Monday when pictures emerged of Sterling taking nitrous oxide, which effectively pushes the oxygen out of the body. It can cause dizziness or affect your judgment, and there is a risk of unconsciousness.
”It is something that when you are a professional sportsperson at the top level of the game, I don’t think it is something you should be doing. It is as simple as that,” Rodgers said. ”But I will speak to him on it. I owe him that respect to see what he says.
”We want players here who are super-professional and focused on their football. I know he is, he very much is focused on his football and improving as a player.”
The Jamaica-born Sterling made his debut for Liverpool and England when he was 17, was selected for England’s World Cup squad at 19 and has been described by Rodgers as the best young talent in Europe.
He appears to have the world at his feet, and former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher is urging Sterling not to waste his talents.
”Raheem Sterling, for how good a footballer he is, needs to be on the back pages, not on the front pages, and that’s a problem for him in these last few months,” Carragher said. ”But he’s a young player, he made a few mistakes and hopefully in years to come he learns from them.”