Brendan Rodgers has acknowledged that Raheem Sterling’s England debut may have come too soon -- but insists the winger has a future at Liverpool.
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The 18-year-old made his only senior international appearance to date on Nov. 14 last year as Roy Hodgson’s side were beaten 4-2 by Sweden in a Stockholm friendly.
At the time, Sterling was a Liverpool regular, having started 10 of their first 11 Premier League games of last season, and shortly afterwards signed a five-year contract.
But having become the fifth-youngest debutant in England history, the teenager has struggled to maintain his progress.
Sterling has made just one league start this season, against Crystal Palace in October, and has dropped back into the England under-21 squad, with whom he is set to figure in a European Championship qualifier against Finland in Milton Keynes on Thursday evening.
But Liverpool have played down reports that Sterling could go out on loan to further his football education.
And Rodgers told The Times: "He showed over the first six months of last season that he has a future in the Premier League and at Liverpool.
"It was going to be very difficult to maintain the level that he set himself, but he is only 18 years of age and as much as we want to play young players and give them the opportunity, there is a nurturing phase as well.
"We have to be careful and avoid what has probably happened too often over the years in football and discard young players too early. I don’t need them ready at 17. If they are, great, but certainly at 20 or 21, we would love them to be ready.
"England are looking to get the best young players in and, at the time, he was one of the best young players. We just have to make sure we remember his age and at what point he is at in his career and make sure we don’t waste it.
"For Raheem, football has to be very much at the forefront of his mind. If it is, he is a talent."
Sterling, who made his senior Liverpool debut against Wigan in March 2012, has also had to deal with off-field distractions during his short career.
In September, the winger was cleared of assaulting his former girlfriend when the case against him collapsed.
On the pitch, Sterling has struggled to maintain his early promise that brought him an England cap 12 months ago.
Looking back a year, Rodgers said: "At that point in time he was one of the best young players in the country and he went into that game and actually did well.
"But it is about managing expectations -- that is the biggest thing with a young player. You have to be so careful because there are so many young players in the country who get a cap and then are forgotten about.
"It can cause issues. It hasn't as such, but I’m talking about young players here and not just Raheem.
"If they get projected into the international teams too early, there can be a misplaced belief that they are considered international players, when sometimes the circumstances dictate that."