Raheem Sterling: 'Rodgers warned me it is time to deliver on new deal'

Liverpool recently rewarded their precocious 18-year-old winger Raheem Sterling with a 2,000 per cent pay rise. But, as he tells Tim Rich, his new riches came with a caveat

The trouble with golden boys is that the glitter soon fades. One of this month's abiding images was of the puffy, freshly bearded face of Michael Johnson, the blond midfielder who was once Manchester City's great hope for the future. At 24, a career pockmarked by injury, depression and spells at the Priory ended with a short statement: "I would be grateful if I could now be left alone to live the rest of my life."

It was footballers such as Johnson that the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, had in mind when he was negotiating with Raheem Sterling's representatives over a new contract. Rodgers had made his reputation in youth football and had seen too many young men, particularly young English men, sign deals for big money and then disappear into a vortex of their own making.

"He has actually spoken to me about that from day one, from the start of the season until now," said Sterling, who turned 18 last month and might be the best young player to grace Anfield since Steven Gerrard made his debut. ''When you sign your contract, don't relax, you've got to push on to the next level because you don't want to disappear until nobody hears of you again."

Perhaps that is why the club allowed one of the few genuinely interesting scenes in their documentary Being Liverpool to be broadcast. In it, Sterling interrupts Rodgers during a team talk on their summer tour of the United States, leading the Liverpool manager to retort: "You need to improve your attitude. If you say 'steady' to me again when I say something to you, you'll be on the first plane back."

The lesson appears to have been learned. "The clip didn't do me any favours. It gave people the impression that I am a massive-time kid, and it's nothing like that," said Sterling, who in the flesh is articulate and self-deprecating. "The manager doesn't want young players thinking they are better than they are and he has put his stamp on me. He was laying down the law."

FA Cup romance is only supposed to attach itself to clubs such as Oldham, Liverpool's opponents tomorrow, the roofs of their rusting stands smeared with snow. Sterling, however, grew up almost literally in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, having moved with his mother at the age of five from Maverley, a tough area of Jamaica whose corrugated- iron roofs and breadfruit trees were stripped by Hurricane Sandy in October.

"The school was literally two minutes away from the stadium," he said of his London upbringing. "When it was being built I used to ride around there on my BMX, just circling the area. At first there was nothing there, then one day there was an arch and then on it went until it was finished. I never tried to sneak in but there was a little market there on a Sunday. That was the closest I got to it.

"For the first FA Cup final there between Chelsea and Manchester United they gave free tickets to the gifted and talented kids at the school. When I got to the stadium it was just beautiful. From that moment, I wanted to play there. It would be a dream come true."

That he would try to fulfil the dream in a Liverpool shirt was not obvious. He had no family connections with Merseyside, and some dazzling attacking performances for Queens Park Rangers youth teams had led to a host of suitors. The difference was that others sent their youth-team coaches to speak to him. When he came to talk to Liverpool, Sterling met Rafa Benitez.

"They made much more of an effort," said Sterling, who suddenly found himself going to school in Rainhill, just outside St Helens. "From a busy city to seeing cows and sheep, it was a bit crazy, but the people were friendly."

For a teenager, however talented – Sterling's Premier League debut against Manchester City shimmered with electricity – the home dressing-room of any football club is not an overly friendly place. "There are one or two who make a real effort, like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Luis Suarez," he said. "But it was a bit daunting. I don't say much even now, but then it was pretty scary. You don't even want to look at them.

"At first it felt natural to come on and just express yourself but now I am expected to be more tactical and think more," he added. "That is more of a challenge. But I don't model myself on any other footballer. That would be a crime."

As he negotiated his new £40,000-a-week, five-year contract that gave him an above-inflation rise of 2,000 per cent, there were accusations of greed and that he was holding out for a return to London. His agents let it be known he was "homesick".

There were also stories about the number of children he has fathered. He seemed like a typical young footballer about to jump into his Hummer wearing dark glasses. Sterling said he was "always going to sign for Liverpool" and it should be pointed out that he could have made considerably more had he gone back to London. And for the record, he has one child, seven-month-old Melody Rose.

It is not hard to discover that his mother, Nadine, is the lodestone of his life, his biggest single influence. "She attends every game she can," he said. "I try to spend as much time with my family as I can. My mum has sat me down and told me this is an important time in my life and I need to be grateful.

"So I am just taking it slowly and trying not to be overwhelmed by what has happened. She tells me to spend more time at home and the more I do that, the less trouble I will get into."

Oldham Athletic v Liverpool is on ITV1 today, kick-off 4pm

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there