After making such an early impact in his first full season in the Premier League, Raheem Sterling is now suffering from burn-out, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted.
The 18-year-old winger has not completed a full 90 minutes for Liverpool since the 3-0 win at Queen's Park Rangers in December, prompting Rodgers to confess that Sterling's "zip had gone" and that he would have to be nursed through the closing stages of the campaign.
As someone with an impressive record in youth coaching, the Liverpool manager has often highlighted the habit of young English footballers in allowing their performances to tail off after signing lucrative contracts – something Sterling has just done. However, Rodgers said that Sterling's case has more to do with fatigue than complacency.
"This is a kid we're talking about, so we have to take a wee step back," he explained. "It is so mentally and physically draining, this league. It hurts experienced professionals and this boy has stepped up from the academy, played football and earned a contract off that.
"We have to nurture that and, at times, he has to have the mentality to keep learning. I was talking to him the other day about this. If he didn't kick another ball this season, he's had a good one.
"But what you are seeing now is more tiredness of the legs when before he could go up to people and take them on. That zip has gone and it's down to fatigue. Was that to be expected? Yes it was.
"He will have experienced that before, but not in the limelight nationally. He has made such an impact that everybody is looking at him now, of course. But he started his career at first-team level way before many get the opportunity.
"What he has done since he stepped on to the pitch against Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly to making his debut as a 17-year-old against Manchester City has been phenomenal. I dare you to look around Europe and tell me about a 17-year-old who has made such an impact in one of the big leagues. There aren't many."
Beginning with an electric display against City at Anfield in August, Sterling started 19 of Liverpool's first 24 Premier League fixtures and featured in all their Europa League group games.
He was singled out as the club's outstanding player in the first third of the season by the former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who had initially thought that Sterling had only been included in the first team for Rodgers to "curry favour with the Liverpool fans".
However, this month in Russia he produced perhaps his most leaden performance in the Europa League defeat by Zenit St Petersburg and was dropped to the bench for the second leg. Off the field, he is also facing a charge of common assault against a 27-year-old woman.
Nevertheless, it is expected that Sterling will be part of a very strong England Under-21 side to face Austria in a friendly at Brighton next month prior to the squad competing in the European Under-21 Championship finals in Israel.Reuse content