This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.
Raheem Sterling left the Anfield pitch on Sunday afternoon with Carlos Tevez's shirt, a warm pat on the head from Steven Gerrard and the memory of a performance that symbolised the hopes of Brendan Rodgers' fledgling regime.
The new manager made a big statement when he marked his first home Premier League match in charge of Liverpool by picking the 17-year-old for a first start in the competition. Sterling responded with a display that did not shape the match but contained quite enough skill and composure to justify his selection.
More than that, his presence gave Anfield the clearest possible indication of how Rodgers wants his team to play. They will be doing it the Swansea way, with swift and accurate short passing in all areas of the pitch, and the approach served them well against the reigning champions.
Twice they took the lead and twice they were pegged back, but never were they prepared to accept second best. The result was a fair one, but three points for the home side would not have represented a distortion, and they did well to close the match on the front foot against a side with a reputation for finishing strongly. Those Liverpool fans who were quick to express dismay after the opening match of the league season, an abject 3-0 defeat at the hands of West Bromwich Albion, have had their reservations addressed, at least for now.
Of all the football teams in the world, perhaps only Brazil generate a level of debate as intense and unremitting as that which surrounds Liverpool FC. It is into this cauldron of conflicting passions that Rodgers has walked, with his eyes wide open and his reputation at stake, a bright young man whose two impressive seasons with Swansea City are deemed sufficient evidence on which to hang the immediate fortunes of the five-times European champions. That is, of course, a very big call, both for the club's owners and for the manager in question, since his arrival presupposes an intention to revive Liverpool through a process of rejuvenation, relying on youth in a way that has not been familiar at Anfield since Gerrard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher came through the ranks a generation ago.
As André Villas-Boas found at Chelsea last season, such a process cannot always be accomplished in time to keep the manager in his job. But Rodgers is five years older than AVB and has already experienced the kind of setback that will have taught him how to pace the business of rebuilding a team.
It says a great deal that the Irishman's reaction to the setback at The Hawthorns was to stack his team with youthful promise: the 21-year-old Fabio Borini on the right wing, the 22-year-old Joe Allen at the base of midfield, the 21-year-old Sebastián Coates at centre-back, the 22-year-old Martin Kelly at right-back and, when Lucas Leiva limped off after only five minutes, the 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey in central midfield. Most strikingly, there was Raheem Shaquille Sterling.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Sterling arrived in England at the age of five. Attached first to West Ham and then to Queens Park Rangers, he joined Liverpool two years ago for an initial fee of £600,000 which could rise to several millions, depending on his progress at Anfield. Eighteen months ago he made headlines by scoring five goals in an FA Youth Cup tie against Southend United. He has played for England's under-16s and under-17s, although his mum wants him to represent Jamaica. Sunday's exhibition will have put a smile on the face of QPR's finance director.
Until Andy Carroll was brought on and Liverpool's attacking shape was changed in the closing minutes, the teenager was stationed on the left wing, using his ability to cut inside on to his stronger right foot. In the early minutes he killed a long ball from Coates with impressive skill and was unafraid to bring off a testing back pass to Pepe Reina from the touchline on halfway. After a succession of promising darts and shimmies, he tricked his way round Kolo Touré in the 18th minute and produced a diagonal ball that Borini glanced narrowly wide of the near post.
A slender figure, only 5ft 7in tall, he is understandably less confident in a defensive role, and was taken to the cleaners by Tevez twice in quick succession when left exposed by Glen Johnson. On the first occasion, in the 60th minute, nothing came of the resulting cross. But Tevez had spotted the weakness and three minutes later he was exploiting it again, isolating Sterling in the same position, and this time a half-clearance was met by Yaya Touré with a close-range shot that gave City their first equaliser.
Some managers might have removed Sterling at that point, ostensibly to save him from further punishment. Rodgers did something different. He took off Kelly, moved Johnson over to his usual right flank, brought on José Enrique, a specialist left-back, and showed faith in his 17-year-old. Liverpool have a long way to go, but Rodgers has got them facing the future.