'Refreshed' Raheem Sterling set to hit new heights after mid-season break in Jamaica

The forward was heavily criticised when Roy Hodgson revealed that the player had told him he was tired ahead of an England training session

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The Independent Football

Raheem Sterling has spoken for the first time about his “tiredness” episode with England and said that his mid-season break in Jamaica, authorised by his Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, has revitalised his season.

The 20-year-old scored a superb equaliser for Liverpool against Chelsea in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final on Tuesday, his second game back since a break on the island of his birth. In spite of his rest, he still has more starts this season, 27, than any of his Liverpool team-mates, including captain Steven Gerrard and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Sterling was heavily criticised when the England manager, Roy Hodgson, revealed that the player had told him he was tired ahead of a training session before the Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia in October.

The striker did not say he was too tired to train, however, and although he did not start the match, he came on as a substitute and won the free-kick from which Wayne Rooney scored the game’s only goal.

Nevertheless, the reputation has stuck and Sterling said that he had been subjected to “stick” when he posted on Instagram that he was on a break in Jamaica. He missed the FA Cup third-round tie away at AFC Wimbledon and then the league win at Sunderland, but was back in the side for the 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday.

Sterling said: “I knew I would get loads of stick for being given the break, but the manager did say at the start of the season that this is what he would do. It was all pre-planned to have a break at some point. I have played a lot of minutes for someone my age, but I am not complaining.

“I think it will help me,” he added. “I am back now, refreshed and ready to go again. I am just focused on  trying to help the team as much as possible. It is always good to get a few days off. I am focused on where I need to be at, which is helping the team by scoring or providing assists.

“Mentally you feel it. I got a lot of stick about the tired stuff with England so it all came down on me. But it was the manager who makes the decisions. If he says, ‘Take a week off’, who am I to say no? I am back, ready and focused.”

Liverpool remain hopeful that they are close to an agreement with Sterling on a new deal. He still has two years left to run after this season but they want to raise his salary to a level that reflects his importance to the team. Relations with the player’s camp are said to be cordial after a bumpy ride in past months and the forward himself has been unaffected by the process.

Asked about the burden on him as the club’s key central striker, ahead of the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, Sterling said that he did not dwell on it much. “Everyone in the team contributes and I am no different,” he said. “We are a team. I am not trying to pick up a ‘main man status’ this season. As long as the team wins and we get good performances that is all that matters to me.”