The training ground interview: Raheem Sterling

Scan opposition defences
“Keeping your head up is one of the most important things to remember when dribbling. You need to do this to see oncoming defenders and once you’ve beaten your man to see what options you have on. If you keep your head down you’re more likely to get tackled. By looking forward – down the field towards the opposition goal – you’ll spot that one-two or a gap to run into. Dribbling isn’t just about beating players; it’s about carrying the ball into dangerous areas.”

Trick your opponent
“When we watch our games back I look at what I did, and most of the time I wait for my opponents to make a move. You want to make the defender commit to a challenge. I do this by trying sharp body movements or selling him a dummy, or maybe trying a trick to make him go one way so that I can go the other. I don’t just break out into a run; I try to do a little shuffle so he makes the first move, and that helps me decide where to take the ball.”

Be direct, be aggressive
“There was a point when I was playing in the reserves where I tried to stop-start defenders a lot. This involves accelerating, hitting the brakes to make the defender stop, then quickly bursting away before they can reset their feet. But the manager told me it was best when I was more aggressive with the ball. From then on I tried to be more direct and attack defenders without slowing down. But you can mix it up a bit – this makes it hard for defenders to predict what you’re going to do.”

Make the right choices
“You have to make good decisions after a successful dribble. Since I’ve been in the first team I’ve learned how crucial decision-making is. When you’re playing at this level you can get one chance to make a difference. It’s no good just kicking the ball into the box – you need to pick someone out. That can win you the game or lose you the game: misplace the pass and the chance is gone. If you’re going to dribble, make sure you produce something decisive at the end of it.”

Take the hits

“I wouldn’t say playing against a big, immobile defender is a good thing – it’s just a different challenge. Against this type of opponent you’ve got to move the ball quicker because he’s big and strong and you don’t want to give him the chance to hit you. You want to get to the space in behind him. But if can’t avoid getting kicked, pick yourself up and go again. Don’t react – just let the referee do his job. All you have to do is focus on your game.”

Keep the ball at your feet
“Dribbling is something I’ve always loved doing and always enjoyed practising. I’ll continue to work on it so that I can get better. Whatever exercises we’re doing at Liverpool, we’ve always got a ball at our feet. When I was a kid I used to watch YouTube clips of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho just to learn tricks. I’d have a game for QPR at the weekend and I’d try to do stepovers – probably one too many – and learn from there. Then I’d go home and do kick-ups.”

Raheem Sterling wears the Mercurial Superfly and Nike Football’s elite training apparel, available now

For more football tips see:
Mario Gotze: Be a creative spark
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Make something happen
Gareth Bale: Terrorise the defence
Lucas Moura: Dribble the Brazilian way
Accelerate and beat your man like Messi
Angel di Maria on the art of wing play
Andres Iniesta: How to boss the midfield

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