LIVERPOOL -- Raheem Sterling's "wonderful talent" can help inspire Liverpool's bid to re-establish themselves at the top of the English game, according to manager Brendan Rodgers.
Sterling scored 10 goals in all competitions for the Reds as they finished second in the Premier League last season, before he went on to impress for England at the World Cup despite their group stage exit.
Rodgers has played down suggestions that the club are about to quadruple the 19-year-old's wages by offering him a new contract.
But he does believe that the winger, whose current deal runs until 2017, has a major role to play in bringing success back to Anfield as the Reds prepare to kick off their Premier League season at home to Southampton on Sunday.
Rodgers said: "He's a wonderful talent. I read somewhere that I said he was like Lionel Messi, which was a big shock, because I didn't say that.
"He's got wonderful talent. He's very stable and secure outside of his football life and you see the joy with which he plays the game.
"He's still very young. And the great thing about Raheem is that he's got a mature head on his shoulders and he's looking to improve all the time. He got 10 goals last year. We're looking at improving that ratio as well.
"He's one of a number of young players we have here who have so much potential to produce and that's something we're looking forward to over the coming seasons -- in particular from him."
But asked about reports that Sterling was set to be offered a new contract -- 20 months after signing his current one -- Rodgers said: "That's the first I've heard of it. He's a young player who'll be looked after here at the club, but you know more than me if that's the case."
With Sterling a regular, Rodgers led Liverpool into the Champions League after a four-season absence as they finished runners-up to Manchester City in the title race.
The Reds still had a chance of winning the league going into the season's final day, the closest they have come to being champions since they last lifted the English title in 1990.
Yet most UK bookmakers make Liverpool only fifth-favourites to win the Premier League this season.
And Rodgers insists that the club must ensure they secure Champions League football again for next season before they can start thinking about title challenges.
He said: "What happened last year counts for nothing. That's all gone now. The one thing we'll carry on from that is the belief. Our aim is to be competitive. We, like the top teams, would want to win a trophy. But in the league, it's about sustaining Champions League football.
"For that, you want to get fourth. Once you've consolidated that, then you look beyond it. That would be our aim this season. I've seen some odds that say we're not even in the top four for this season.
"I think people will rightly look at Manchester City and Chelsea because of the squads they have. We're up there to challenge and be competitive again. We probably arrived a year early, but this year we'll certainly be looking to challenge and be up there again."
Rodgers, meanwhile, said there had been no progress in discussions over a new contract with right-back Glen Johnson, whose current deal runs out next summer.
"There's nothing as of yet, no," Rodgers said.