Forty players have been nominated for the prestigious 2014 Golden Boy award, but there’s only one standout candidate - and that’s Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling.
The 19-year-old’s name would now be etched onto the trophy had Liverpool won the Premier League title last season. Sterling was magnificent for the Reds in the second half of last term, but the team’s dramatic end-of-season capitulation denied the live-wire winger what would have been a deserved Premier League winners’ medal.
Many young players would have been left shell-shocked by what they’d experienced in Sterling’s position, but the teenager proved in Brazil weeks later that he’s not just a wonderfully talented footballer - he’s also made of strong stuff mentality.
Sterling has impressed throughout 2014
Sterling went to the World Cup finals with England and was one of the few players in Roy Hodgson’s squad to emerge with any credit. Again, it was because of the team’s shortcomings that denied Sterling a place in the knockout rounds of the tournament, rather than his own.
"Raheem plays with no fear. He just wants to get the ball run at people and take them on." - Jordan Henderson on Sterling.
And it’s been the same story this season with Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers’ side are struggling to cope with the demands of playing in the Champions League, particularly without their best player, Luis Suarez.
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It’s put extra strain on their key players, including Sterling, who came in for harsh criticism earlier this month for telling England boss Hodgson that he felt too physically drained to start in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia.
But when he has been on the pitch, Sterling has often been spellbinding. And of all the 40 Golden Boy award candidates, nobody deserves to win it more.
There’s only a couple on the shortlist likely to run him close, in all honesty, with Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj being one of them.
The Belgium international was one of Manchester United’s most consistent performers last season, and got a few minutes at the World Cup finals in Brazil. However, he has not been handed too many opportunities to shine by Louis van Gaal this term, and that’s likely to stop him winning the coveted individual accolade.
Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma also makes the shortlist, but the ten-match ban he received - for a tackle which broke the leg of Sochaux's Thomas Guerbert - in November while playing for Saint-Etienne may cost him a shot of winning the award previously claimed by the likes of Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba.
Another Premier League player up for the award is Arsenal’s Calum Chambers, who has been superb all year, first with Southampton and now with Arsenal. But has he done more than Sterling this year? Not a chance.
The same can be said of every other player on the shortlist. The likes of Hakan Calhanoglu, Gerard Deulofeu, Munir El Haddadi, Lazar Markovic, Divock Origi, Mathias Ginter and Aymeric Laporte have all impressed, but their overall impact in the calendar year have paled in comparison to Sterling’s exploits.
It’s no wonder that the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea are reportedly keen to sign Sterling, whose value is already estimated to be around the £48 million-mark.
He looks certain to add the Golden Boy award to his personal trophy cabinet at the end of this year - and few would argue against the general consensus that he thoroughly deserves it.