The Raheem Sterling saga keeps on rolling on. Player power has become increasingly evident in the game’s youngest, most exciting talents. The back-and-forth between Sterling and Brendan Rodgers continued after the Liverpool boss hit out at his player’s representatives for the frank interview he gave to the BBC last week, and then stated he expected a backlash from the player he called Europe’s best youngster last year.
While the hype around Sterling will no doubt increase interest – Zinedine Zidane has admitted that Real Madrid are monitoring him – there are questions to be raised regarding Rodgers’ statement. Aside from the fact Sterling was named Golden Boy of 2014, what reason is there to say that Sterling is indeed the best young player in Europe? According to WhoScored.com, there are more than a few who can attest to have out-performed him this season.
Sterling’s rating of 7.35 is impressive, particularly for a 20-year-old in a Liverpool team rebuilding after Luis Suarez’s departure, but where many had hoped Sterling would compensate for that loss this season, it is fair to say that he hasn’t truly done so. He has put in some fantastic displays over the course of the season, but has too had some equally quiet games. That includes the loss at the Emirates last weekend, when his most notable contribution was being fouled for Jordan Henderson’s penalty.
In fact, of players to start the season aged 21 or under and now with at least 1,000 minutes of action in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, Sterling is the 20th highest rated player according to WhoScored.com. Amongst those above him there are several other candidates for the title of Europe’s best young player.
Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg and Switzerland’s hugely impressive young left-back, leads the way with 7.83, combining adept defensive work (2.6 interceptions and 1.6 tackles per game) with effective attacking displays (6 goals, 3 assists and 1.6 dribbles per game). Jordan Amavi (7.78), another of France’s line of young and upcoming left-backs, follows shortly after, with Paul Pogba (7.77) in hot pursuit. Pogba is well over a year Sterling’s senior, and has a great deal more playing experience than him, so it perhaps unfair to compare the two. However, the Juventus midfielder has certainly outperformed Sterling.
There are plenty of players in the list who cannot be considered as attack-minded (and therefore may not be thought to be as exciting), but even listing only those who play higher up the pitch, the England man still ranks sixth in WhoScored’s rankings.
Nabil Fekir, the Lyon midfielder who has taken Ligue 1 by storm this season, has an average rating of 7.60, having contributed 12 goals and 7 assists in 21 appearances. With 2.6 dribbles, 2.5 shots and 1.4 key passes per game, Fekir is reportedly attracting the attention of Arsenal and Manchester City. He is Europe’s best performing attacking player.
Lazio have challenged rivals Roma as they attempt to overthrow Juventus at the top of Serie A thanks to their brilliant form in the second half of the season, and Brazilian Felipe Anderson has played a key role.
Anderson ranks top of Serie A for dribbles per game (3.4), behind only the likes of Hazard (4.8), Messi (4.7), Robben (4.5), Ribery (3.8) and a handful of others across Europe’s top 5 leagues. He is a huge goal threat, having directly contributed to 15 goals in just 14 starts for the Rome-based club (nine goals, six assists), particularly from distance, with three of those goals coming from outside the box.
PSG’s Lucas Moura (7.53), Tottenham’s Harry Kane (7.43) and Palermo’s Paulo Dybala (7.35) have all outshone Sterling in WhoScored’s ratings this season, and a case can be made for each for the crown of Europe’s hottest prospect.
Sterling is unquestionably a fantastic player with an incredibly bright future, but labelling him as the best young player in Europe at this moment in time is perhaps slightly misguided.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with the new free-to-download WhoScored iOS app.