Football: Sterling has room for improvement, says Hodgson

England's midfielder Raheem Sterling in action during a team training session at St George's Park in central England, on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
England's midfielder Raheem Sterling in action during a team training session at St George's Park in central England, on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - England manager Roy Hodgson has predicted that Raheem Sterling will become an even more dangerous player, as the teenage Liverpool forward's importance to his national side continues to grow.

Having shown tantalising glimpses of his ability during the World Cup, Sterling is now threatening to supercede newly appointed captain Wayne Rooney as England's attacking fulcrum.

Hodgson deployed him at the tip of a midfield diamond in Monday's opening Euro 2016 qualifier away to Switzerland and the 19-year-old shone again, laying on the first goal for Danny Welbeck in an encouraging 2-0 win.

But while Sterling's electric pace and incisive passing continue to dazzle opposition defences, Hodgson believes the former Queens Park Rangers youngster still has a sizeable margin for improvement.

"What he will get is more nuanced in his decision-making," Hodgson told journalists after Monday's victory against Switzerland in Basel.

"Hopefully he won't lose anything of that incredible talent, pace, athleticism, and even aggression, because he doesn't get knocked off the ball very easily.

"But the bottom line for him is his understanding of when it's really important to do it and when maybe he should be a bit more careful and when maybe he should drift away and take someone out of position.

"These are the things you work on on the training field and I'm certain (Liverpool manager) Brendan (Rodgers) is working on that all the time on the training field, just like we are when he comes to us.

"But it's also games, and the big games. Now Liverpool are back in the Champions League they'll have some big games coming up. That's where you learn most and I'm excited for him." England's victory over the Swiss was their first competitive win of 2014, following their meek group-stage exit at the World Cup in Brazil.

- Scotland game 'spiky' -

Their energetic performance, bristling with attacking enterprise, was also a vast improvement on last week's drab 1-0 friendly win over Norway, but Hodgson urged his young players not to get ahead of themselves.

"I think they've got to go away feeling happy that they let nobody down, that they did the right things, but if they're wise, they won't start jumping for joy too much," he said.

"They will be keeping their feet on the ground and saying 'Yes, we were good enough, we did some good things, but if we're going to do anything in France 2016, we've got to be a lot better.'" After further qualifying games at home to San Marino, away to Estonia, and at home to Slovenia, England will bring the curtain down on their year with a friendly against old rivals Scotland in Glasgow on November 18.

By that time, Scotland could have broken away from the United Kingdom, depending on the result of next week's referendum on Scottish independence.

However, Hodgson played down concerns about off-pitch tension and said it would be an occasion to savour.

"Taking the independence side out of it completely, I know one thing. I took a (Neuchatel Xamax) team to Celtic Park a long time ago and we'd won the first leg 5-1 and it should have been a dead rubber," he said.

"It wasn't a dead rubber for those Celtic fans because 60,000 of them turned up and made our life a misery for that 90 minutes, just to make certain we didn't give away the advantage we'd got in the home game.

"So that's going to be a very, very spiky game. It's going to be a game that's feisty. We're going to be in an atmosphere which many of these players won't have been in before.

"So I'm looking forward to that game because it will be another massive test for us. It'll be so different from playing Estonia away or Slovenia at home."

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