With the Premier League season almost at its end, Liverpool fans have already been given a taste of the unpredictability of our club’s transfer policy this coming summer, with it being reported this week that youngster Raheem Sterling has announced he has no plans to sign a new contract at Anfield.
Such news couldn’t have come at a worse time for Reds fans, in a week where Steven Gerrard said his farewells to Anfield while Luis Suarez reminded us of just how important he was by helping Barcelona to their latest La Liga Title.
Despite its apparent clarity within the media, Sterling’s situation inevitably consists of more than meets the eye which makes it difficult to take a solid stance with regards to criticising the 20 year old. The news that he has planned to tell Brendan Rodgers he would like a transfer away from Liverpool came accompanied by reasons that, in my opinion, oppose the apparent nature of Sterling, giving me reason to believe his words have been altered. Immediately, I suspected this was the work of his agent who has posed as a large factor within the Sterling saga over the last few months, following the news that he had pushed for the England winger to reject a ludicrous contract with Liverpool in favour of more money. The media suggests Sterling feels as though the club have not protected him enough over the last few weeks following negative headlines regarding his personal life as well as the idea that the club have treated him unfairly in terms of contract negotiations, resulting in the word ‘bullied’ being thrown into the equation. Sterling’s controversial agent, Aidy Ward, inevitably reacted to instant criticism of his client and also his involvement in the deal. Ward reacted angrily to Jamie Carragher’s advice that Sterling should get rid of him as an agent with the agent’s explicit description of the Liverpool legend speaking volumes about the influence he is trying to have on Sterling’s situation. As news surrounding the situation progressed, the agent went public by insisting that his client would definitely not sign a new contract at the club: “He’s not signing for £700,000, £800,000, £900,000 a week.” His public outburst has achieved very little in terms of making the situation clear and has, in fact, added to the tension. His words resulted in the club cancelling its proposed meeting with Sterling regarding his future, setting the tone for a summer of confusion and drama.
Having followed Raheem Sterling closely since breaking through into the Liverpool first team, nothing in the way he presents himself on or off the pitch suggests to me that, firstly, he is in it for the money or, secondly, that he would ever publicly challenge Liverpool football club in a way that would portray it negatively. He has persisted to keep his private life extremely private and is far from an over-confident and pompous individual. This again leads me to believe that he has no intentions of ‘taking on’ the club. It is very evident through the way he speaks of his family that he is a very honest young man and one that is keen to provide for both his Mum and young daughter, which brings me towards the belief that any financially orientated ambitions are directly linked with his desire to help his family live a happy life.
In response to the current idea that his wish to leave has nothing to do with money, I very much support where he is coming from, unlike many Liverpool fans who have quickly criticised him. He has previously stated that, if offered one, he would have definitely signed a new contract a year ago when Liverpool finished second in the league, which poses as the foundation for my support for him. Having performed so well and played such a huge role alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in Liverpool’s title challenge, the club should have wasted no time in offering him a lucrative contract in order to keep hold of, visibly, one of the brightest young prospects in world football. The media made his potential clear at the time so why did the club not act? In addition to this, the departure of Luis Suarez should have acted as an even greater reason to ensure he remained at the club for a long period. It was vital at that time that both Brendan Rodgers and the owners assured Sterling that he was very much a pivotal part to their plans and that he was very much wanted by them. I get the impression that they failed to do so. This acts as realistic evidence for the idea that his wish to move onto another club comes on the basis of his self-confidence and ambition and the belief that he is good enough to move onto a club that will pose a title challenge and one that will feature in the Champions League consistently. He cannot be blamed for this after witnessing the failures of the club in the transfer market last summer that contributed to Liverpool’s poor season.
From a money perspective, I admittedly criticised him at the beginning for his apparent greed, however I very much defend him now in this area. Looking at the world of football and how it has advanced as an industry, the astronomical wages given to players dictate that they continue to rise for the top players and rising stars, therefore any supposed rejection by Sterling towards an offer he felt was not high enough by the club, can be viewed as reasonable in the context of modern football. The growing importance and influence of business within the sport is to blame for money becoming such a huge part of football, therefore Liverpool, if they really wanted to keep Sterling, must put him and his wishes first, if it stands true that he and his agent are demanding more money. It is very notable that this has become a weakness at Liverpool Football Club as well as other big clubs, the most apparent being Arsenal, in terms of the failure to please and keep hold of the biggest and highest quality players. The owners and the manager are very much at fault for this and must be criticised for their decision to let Steven Gerrard leave the club this season. Their failure to offer the club’s best ever player a new contract exposes their lack of understanding towards the players, the history of the club and the fans. In my opinion, it is possible that this could have played a large role in Raheem Sterling wanting to leave as it depicts a club on the brink of falling into very difficult times with no replacement for the Liverpool skipper visible at this time- acting as a reminder for the inability to replace Luis Suarez. What is most shocking is the fact that players who have failed to contribute a quarter of what Raheem Sterling has, such as Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli, are earning more money each week than him. I’ll say it again, in the context of modern day football, the club can’t afford to not meet the wage demands of one of its top players; the sport has wrongly progressed too far in terms of business power to turn back on itself, outlining the scary reality that player wages will only continue to rise and there is nothing that can be done to stop this. If businessmen are keen to invest in a football club then relate to this club and interact with it rather than simple represent it.
I strongly support Sterling and believe he deserves better treatment than he has been receiving, however I do hold some criticism for him. Following the failed contract negotiations several weeks ago, I feel he should have publicly expressed his commitment to the club in a more convincing manner. As obvious as it sounds, he would have faced less pressure if he had gained the full backing of the fans by reassuring them that he was still prepared to put in 100% for the club, even if he knew that he was keen to move on elsewhere. His interview in response to criticism at the time very much consisted of him defending himself by disregarding the idea that he was in it for the money. At this difficult time right now he must be very careful about the statements he will undoubtedly release in response to recent news. I can’t imagine how it must have been for him to enter training the next day to greet team-mates who would have been fixated on the idea that he doesn’t want to be there. With such an unpredictable period looming for Liverpool, following Steven Gerrard’s transfer away from the club, it has to be said that Raheem faces a hugely difficult task in deciding between moving away in an attempt to break through into one of the world’s top performing clubs, with the risk he may fail to establish himself, or to stay at a team which faces the possibility of falling. Speaking as a passionate Liverpool fan, I really do hope he stays to pose as the foundation for the rebuilding of the squad post-Gerrard, but if his heart is elsewhere and unlikely to change then it is best for both sides that a solution is found. Rodgers has been quick to express his expectancy that Sterling will see out the remainder of his contract at Liverpool while insisting that he doesn’t see him as unhappy at Liverpool, however this fails to absolutely convince me given Suarez’s departure only months after agreeing a new deal at the club. The club have been quick to insist that he will be going nowhere, but things can change in the blink of an eye in football. Watch this space.
It is important the full extent of the situation is understood by both parties and as much as it interests the world of football, the story cannot afford any further unwanted leaks to the media for the sake of both the club and player, given the risk of feeding false and unfair ideas and perceptions to fans and links to the club.