Joe Cole has tipped Raheem Sterling to become a "special talent" for Liverpool this season, but boss Brendan Rodgers insists the youngster is not ready for first-team football.
Sterling is arguably the most exciting talent to emerge from the Liverpool Academy since the inductions of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard at Anfield. At 17 years of age he has already tasted first-team action and is the type of tricky winger that the Reds have lacked for years.
Cole, who is only just beginning to learn of Sterling's talent after spending a year at Lille, believes the teenager could make a big impact this season, but Rodgers is more likely to loan the player out to gain experience.
"It's the first time I've spent a lot of time with Raheem and he has certainly impressed me," Cole said. "He's quick, he's skilful and he has definitely got goals in him.
"He's going to be a special player for Liverpool and I think he could really make an impression this season. He's a good kid who wants to work hard. Raheem has got that mentality where I don't think anything will faze him. He's competitive and he's a strong boy."
Sterling is likely to feature in Liverpool's opening pre-season friendly on Saturday evening, against Toronto FC, where he will aim to prove himself to Rodgers. However, the Liverpool manager has deep experience of handling youth team players, and he holds the belief that 17 is too young to become a first-team regular.
"One of the things I've done over my career is manage the expectation of young players," Rodgers said. "The reality is he's still very young. Raheem is a talent and he has certainly shown qualities but he's not ready for the first team yet.
"There are very few players in the world who get into a Premier League team at 17, never mind a top club. It will be a decision for me over the next few weeks whether he stays and is involved or he goes on a loan period."