Despite seeing his workload reduced over the past month, Raheem Sterling remains the second most fouled player in the Premier League. But it's all just part of the game for a player who's quickly settling into life as a professional footballer.
After showing signs he desperately needed rest just as the club began its busy December stretch, Raheem Sterling hasn't been the constant presence in the starting eleven that he was for much of the first half of the season. In fact, over the past six league matches, Sterling has only played for 294 of a possible 540 minutes—or just a little over half.
Before then he had played over 90% of the time in the league. It was a workload that clearly took its toll, and represented a potentially a reckless overexposure to Premier League life for a player who turned 18 just last month. And part of the potential for danger in playing the slight winger so often at such an early age can be seen the foul count, where Sterling is the second most fouled player in the league.
"It is annoying trying to get to sleep with your legs in pieces," said Sterling, who having been fouled 52 times in the league is second only to Everton's Steven Pienaar. "I know I get kicked a lot. but if that’s what it takes and we get free-kicks, I will take getting the kicks."
Thankfully, a little less action should mean fewer kicks for Sterling to take over the coming months. For the player the prospect of less football might not be the most welcomed development, but for Sterling's long-term development—and so that he might still have any legs left for opponents to kick at a few years down the road—it's likely to be a good thing.
Still, for a player of Sterling's stature who relies on dribbling, close control, and acceleration to beat defenders who are usually bigger than he is, standing up to some amount of physical abuse will likely always be a part of the game. To hear Sterling tell it, it always has been for him, even if the opponents weren't always quite as much bigger than him as they have been this season.
"The scariest to play against was Branislav Ivanovic," he said, reflecting on the defenders he's faced up to in his first half-season of Premier League action. "He wasn’t dirty, the guy is just a tank. A big guy, big upper body, big lower body. A real tank. But I’ve always played against guys who are bigger than me.
"I was mocked by the crowd at a youth game in Germany once for my height. It’s always happened, I’ve always played above my age group, with bigger guys, but I love the challenge. With the physicality, I had to learn new tricks, learn to outsmart my opponent. It was good for me trying to outplay the older, bigger guys. It was scary at first but after a while I got used to it and getting kicked was just natural."
As for what the future holds for Sterling, he admits to having to adjust to being a professional footballer even while a part of him wants to still be a normal kid: "I can’t do what every normal 18-year-old boy would want to do, like going out every weekend. But I know I have a good thing here, it’s brilliant what is happening. I can’t complain. And I want more of it.
"I look around the dressing room and it makes me hungry. The older players haven’t achieved what they have overnight. They have lived their whole life as a professional, many years always professional on and off the field. They have won Champions Leagues, other titles, and I want that.
"That is my main aim, to win trophies at this football club. I would never relax on what I have done so far. I try everyday to build day by day. I want to be remembered for the things I do on the pitch."