Belfast Telegraph

Sterling knows legal highs are no laughing matter and will learn his lesson: Rodgers

By Tim Rich

Brendan Rodgers has told Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe to be careful who they allow to get close to them.

The Liverpool manager spoke to both young players after they were pictured smoking shisha pipes in a London bar but what would have concerned him more was that Sterling was filmed in his own house inhaling nitrous oxide - popularly known as legal high "laughing gas".

The film was then sold and posted online.

But Rodgers sprang to the defence of the players, aged just 20 and 19 respectively, insisting they should be given some leeway to make mistakes.

"I always think it is good to trust but better not to trust," said Rodgers, who fined neither player. "Sometimes, when you are young, you give out trust to people and when they let you down you have to rethink.

"It is very important they have close-knit people around them they can trust.

"I know Raheem - I would think inside out now - and Jordon and they are both good kids. They are not unprofessional, they love their work. It is just about awareness for them."

Rodgers spent a part of his career in youth football and agrees with the theory that this kind of incident is more likely to affect British players rather than their foreign counterparts.

"They seem to be involved more," he said. "Whether the focus is on them more or whether the culture is different is hard to say but they will learn from this experience."

One theory the Liverpool manager does not buy into is the one that young footballers are more out of control than they once were.

The prevalence of camera phones means that any misdemeanour is automatically highlighted either in the press or on social media.

"I don't think there was this exposure to all these elements a few years ago," he said. "There also needs to be an understanding that when you are a professional sportsperson, there are things you can and cannot do - not just for your own welfare but the responsibilities you have.

"I think both young players are aware of their responsibilities. All you can do is continually educate them.

"It is (about) perspective as well. If you look at Raheem he didn't do anything illegal.

"It was something he will look back on in years to come and it probably wasn't the wisest thing to do.

"But for me it is all about the welfare of the two young players; making them aware of the health issues which come with that and also about the professionalism and what they are representing.

"They will make mistakes, whether it is those two or other young players.

"In the main young footballers are good people, they do a lot of things which go unnoticed. Sometimes they get caught out but that is just youth and learning.

"We talk of players as being role models but I think the best role models in your life are parents and guardians - but we are not perfect either, we make mistakes too."

Sterling will be in the Liverpool squad that travels to Wembley for tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, although Ibe, who played for Derby earlier in the competition, is cup-tied.

Winning a trophy is the biggest hurdle Rodgers has yet to clear as Liverpool manager. Since Bill Shankly became manager in 1959, he and every one of his successors, bar Roy Hodgson, has won something. Rodgers said that coming close to winning, as Liverpool have with the Premier League last season and the League Cup this year, was an essential preparation to the next step.

"When you look at winners in sport, I also look at what they have lost. Often they needed to go close before winning," said Rodgers.

Defender Martin Skrtel will return after a three-match suspension but there is greater debate over whether captain Steven Gerrard, also returning from a ban, but with just 27 minutes of football behind him since February 10 because of injury, should start.

The 34-year-old was given a run-out in a practice match earlier this week and Rodgers confirmed the midfielder, whose last match for the club before he leaves for LA Galaxy could potentially be the FA Cup final on May 30, is fit.

"He is ready. We played a behind-closed-doors game here on Monday in which he and a few of the other players who have been out played in," added the Reds boss. "Steven is fine. The most important thing is his availability.

"Whether he plays or doesn't play he will be an important member of the squad for us on the day.

"Throughout his time he has been an incredible player who, in the main, has always produced big goals and big moments in the big games."

Striker Daniel Sturridge is a major doubt with a hip injury which forced him to miss Monday's win over Newcastle.

"We will give Dan every possibility to be fit and we will see how he is tomorrow and take it from there," said Rodgers.

Belfast Telegraph


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