Raheem Sterling has taken a lot of criticism in the past few days as Roy Hodgson publically revealed Sterling had asked to be rested for England's Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia.
The criticism has been very harsh as numerous fans and some pundits alike failed to grasp how a 19 year old could be suffering from tiredness, especially with the season so young in October.
The criticism had been so severe Sterling himself was forced into a defensive stance as he looked to clear his name:
Common sense would dictate taking a rest; however, young players are deterred from speaking out in case of abhorrent abuse from fans, or fear of being dropped from the starting line-up.
The end result is a player enjoying the fruits of their labour at a young age, but failing to age like a fine wine as injuries spoil their career.
Michael Owen, a former Liverpool and England player, is always the prime example of a footballer who suffered from burnout due to over exhaustion.
By the age of 18, Owen had the world at his feet. He had won the Premier League Golden Boot and was voted into the Premier League Team of the Year, Premier League Player of the Year, Premier League Young Player of the Year, BBC Personality of the Year, FIFA World Cup Young Player of the Year and fourth in the FIFA World Player of the Year, all in 1998.
1999 reaffirmed his talents as he won the Premier League Golden Boot for a second year running and was runner up to Nicolas Anelka in the Premier League Younger Player of the Year - an award he may have won had the first of many hamstring injuries not plagued Owen.
That hamstring injury, caused by excessive playing, would haunt Owen throughout the rest of 1999 and much of early 2000.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Owen spoke candidly on his hamstring injury hell:
‘You’ve got three hamstrings and one was just totally ruptured,’ he says, raising his leg off the sofa to demonstrate the point.
‘It should be right the way down but one bit starts there, attaches there and the rest of it attaches there. I’ve got no hamstring in the middle. I’m basically running on two hamstrings on my right leg and three on the other.
‘That injury has probably changed my whole career. I’ve been compromised from the age of 19.
‘Every specialist says the same thing. It goes from one and then you compensate and it goes to the other one, and then to the groin, and then a double hernia and then on to this.’
He also spoke on how the injury affected his career. Owen finished his career with 40 England goals, 9 away from the all-time top scorer, Sir Bobby Charlton. Although, at one stage Owen seemed a shoo-in to break the record.
‘If I’d still been in one piece from the World Cup and gone through my career, what type of player would I have been?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘No doubt about it, if I hadn’t had as many injuries I would have been the all-time leading scorer for England.
Owen then compared his career to Steven Gerrard's, detailing why his own peak was short whilst Gerrard's peak had longevity.
‘Some people will think I was blighted with injuries and that’s a matter for them. I think to myself that I was exceptional at a young age but I paid the penalty for that.
‘I was 15 and playing in the Under 18s for England, I was seven and in the Under 11s at county level, I was playing above myself all the time.
‘When me and Steven Gerrard were breaking through at Liverpool he was phenomenal at 14 but he just couldn’t stay fit. That was the biggest blessing in disguise for him. He couldn’t play so he grew into his frame and all of a sudden he plays a lot more than me in the latter part of his career.
‘I was just ready and as fast as anything, and as mentally strong as anyone out there. I was ready-made to do it when I was young but now I’ve had to pay the price.
‘Bloody hell, when Gerard Houllier said that I couldn’t play every game I remember saying I’ll rest when I’m 30. He was probably right, wasn’t he! Part of me thinks I’ve been the luckiest person in the world as well. I’ve played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle, Man United, got 90-odd caps for England, 40-odd goals, don’t need to work again, got four great kids. I’m not that unlucky!
Other players who never reached their peak, had it cut short or even had to retire due to excessive playing-time as a youngster are: three-time World Player of the Year, Ronaldo (Brazil); 1 time World Player of the Year, Kaka; former Liverpool legend, Robbie Fowler; Michael Essien; Sebastian Diesler; Alexandre Pato; Fernando Torres; Michael Johnson and many others.
Of all the aforementioned, Sterling resonates closely with Michael Owen. Not only does Sterling play for the same club and country Owen did, he is every bit as rapid and agile as Owen was; they are both of similar height and stature; and they also both share the same gait.
The only difference between the two is unlike Michael Owen, who unfairly became the hope and saviour of Liverpool football club (understandable as the club was going through a draught trophies) and the English national side (strangely at a time when England were strong), Sterling should face none of these pressures.
Liverpool are far stronger as a club now than they were in 1997 (Owen's debut year), and although England are far worse, there is a lack of expectation surrounding the national team. In the short term, England have an easy group to qualify from for Euro 2016. This should essentially mean Sterling should be rested far more than Owen ever was.
If there is anything positive to come from the debacle, it is that Sterling was strong enough to waive peer pressure and listen to his body before it broke down. It was also a timely reminder to look back on the past and how overexertion has destroyed many careers.
Fortunately, many ex-pros, veterans and journalists of the game jumped to Sterling's defence: