Former Anfield and Manchester United star Michael Owen has claimed "Liverpool have to protect Raheem Sterling for the future" amid uncertain rumours about his contract renewal.
The 20-year-old star is already one of the most important players in Brendan Rodgers' squad but is said to be one of the lower earners – taking home around £30,000-a-week – while his current contract is due to expire in 2017.
Liverpool have reportedly tried to get Sterling to commit his long-term future to the club with a new deal but until now, the attacking midfielder does not appear to be happy with the offer made by the Reds.
With both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich reportedly monitoring the situation, Owen suggested Liverpool have to make an effort to secure his services.
"He's done the job really well. I think he can go on to be a real world-class player. He's got one or two bits of his game that he still needs to improve, but he's got so much going for him," Owen said to Liverpool's official website.
"If you're looking around at the Liverpool team at the moment, he's certainly one of the shining lights that Liverpool have to protect for the future."
Meanwhile, Owen believes that even though the Liverpool prodigy is excelling in his new role as a false nine, he should return to a deeper role in the future.
"I think he's still got more to come, I really do. I think in the future he'll probably revert back to one of the wider positions or the number 10 role in behind a number nine," the former striker said.
"I think that would be his best position. I really like him when he's running at players and facing the goal, as opposed to playing with his back to goal as a number nine."
After starting 19 of the first 20 Premier League games of the campaign, Rodgers gave Sterling a rest during the last two games, against Sunderland in the league and AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup, ahead of the second half of the season.
Owen backs the manager's decision as he believes the midfielder will come back even stronger.
He said: "No one needs to be fresher than Raheem Sterling. Just the very fact of how he plays with his explosive speed. It takes far more out of a player when you have that speed.
"Big exertions take plenty out of you and he probably needed a break. Brendan has done the right thing in giving him a break at some point. Fortunately, results have gone for Liverpool in the meantime. They have not missed him too much."