Sunday, 27 January 2013

On your bike! Liverpool's Raheem Sterling used the old Wembley's rubble as his ... -

By Simon Mullock

Raheem Sterling is desperate to play at Wembley – and this time he doesn't want to get on his bike to do it.

When the Liverpool winger arrived in ­London from Jamaica aged five, his family settled in Neasden just as the Twin Towers were about to be torn down.

That didn't stop the football-mad Sterling making regular visits with his mates to the building site that was to eventually become the new 90,000-capacity home of football.

And although the £50,000-a-week teenager can now afford to replace his BMX with a fleet of BMWs, he still gets a ­childhood buzz when he thinks about Wembley.

Sterling said: "My school was two minutes away from the stadium.

"When it was being built I used to ride around the site on my BMX with my friends.

"At first there was nothing there, then one day we saw the arch starting to go up and we kept going back until it was finished.

"I didn't try to sneak in, but I did go there when Chelsea played Man United in the first FA Cup Final at the new stadium, when Didier Drogba scored the winner.

"They gave the talented kids from my school free tickets to go – and it was just beautiful."

Liverpool face Oldham in the FA Cup on Sunday.

And the 18-year-old, who ­arrived at Anfield from QPR for £600,000 after leaving school, could be in the England squad to face Brazil next month.

He said: "That would be unbelievable, especially at Wembley."

But what about claims that his mum wants him to commit himself to the country of his birth?

"No, no, no," insisted Sterling, an unused sub when England faced Ukraine last September.

"My mum has never said that. In fact, she said, 'Jamaica is your home nation, but England has looked after you.'"

By Simon Mullock

Dean Bouzanis wants to prove that Rafa Benitez was right to once herald him as a star in the making.

The Australian was described by Benitez as the best goalkeeper in the world for his age when the Spaniard brought him to Liverpool as a 16-year-old in 2007.

Bouzanis' progress hasn't quite gone as expected – he left Anfield last year to join Oldham after deciding regular football in League One was better than being No.3 at Liverpool behind Pepe Reina and Brad Jones.

But the man who didn't even pull on a pair of goalkeeping gloves until the age of 15 is a quick learner.

And he expects to get ­another valuable ­lesson when ­Liverpool visit Boundary Park in the FA Cup fourth round.

Bouzanis said: "It was obviously a massive ­statement when Rafa said what he did.

"I haven't met that level of ­expectation yet, but I don't regret what Rafa said because it gives your confidence a ­massive lift.

"I still feel I have got something to prove. I haven't gone down the ­Liverpool route, but something big can still happen to my career if I keep working hard.

"I'm loving every minute at Oldham. They have given me the opportunity to play and I've got no regrets.

"Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to eventually get the chance to take two steps forward – just like my best mate Tom Ince."

Bouzanis became friendly with Ince during their time at Liverpool's Academy in Kirkby.

And while the Australian was arriving at Oldham via a loan spell at Accrington Stanley, Ince has been rebuilding his own reputation at Blackpool to such an extent that Liverpool have offered £6million to re-sign him.

Bouzanis said: "I speak to Tom ­almost every day. He's another bloke who believes in his own ability – just like I do. He wanted to play first-team football so he left Liverpool for Blackpool and look what is happening.

"He wanted to play every week and he is now one of the top prospects outside the ­Premier League.

"If I could choose any team in the Premier League to play for it would be Liverpool ­because they're the team I grew up with and I grew to love. But you would have to be someone special to ­dislodge Pepe Reina.

"I will never forget what Liverpool have done for me in terms of my development, but it was the right time to move on."

Bouzanis, born in ­Sydney of Greek extraction, signed for Oldham just a week before Liverpool ended the ­Latics' FA Cup dreams last season.

But Paul Dickov's men defied the odds to win at Nottingham Forest in the third round.

And the 22-year-old Aussie believes that Bradford's heroics in reaching the Capital One Cup final will give the home side even more hope against Liverpool – even though that will upset a few of his friends back home.

Bouzanis said: "Look what Bradford have achieved. They haven't just beaten Aston Villa to get to Wembley they've also knocked out Arsenal and Wigan.

"If we defend well then we've got every chance of nicking a result.We've got to work with the strengths we have and try to apply some pressure.

"My mates back home are getting up at 3am to watch the game in the Cheers bar in Sydney.

"They'll all be cheering for Liverpool as usual, but they'll be more ­worried about this game than the Oldham fans."

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