Comment: Opportunistic, misguided and offensive - Sterling's interview was a huge own goal
Published 02/04/2015 | 19:34
There’s a golden rule when assessing contract disputes. As soon as they say it’s not about the money, you know it is definitely about the money. Whether it’s about the pound, the euro, or the sterling, it is always about money.
Raheem Sterling sat there, the Liver Buildings in the background and the chance to 'put the record straight' about being the kid who values titles over wages directly ahead. The Liver Bird and a ticking clock were over his right shoulder - an appropriate image given this is seen as the beginning of the end of his Anfield career. We can appreciate the choreography.
Sterling played the game as instructed. It's the 'cake and eat it' strategy pursued by all those who want out, but fear being hammered for having itchy feet.
The intention was for Sterling to position himself as the innocent party in a mess of someone else’s creation. Here is how we are meant to interpret it.
Yes, Sterling turned £100,000 a week, yes he asked for more, but this is not about fast cars, this is about trophies. It would not matter what he was offered now, but a recent revelation he would reject £180,000 a week to play for Liverpool was not presented as intended so he needed to make it clear that was, in fact, a way of underlining this is not about money.
Are we clear about the money and it not being about it? Good, we'll continue.
Next comes the implication the club does not appreciate him and can't match his ambition. They should have approached him sooner, and now they've let world-class players leave he needs time to consider all the options. It's not his fault - it is the club’s for not acting quickly enough (we won’t mention the trigger clause in the contract ensuring fresh contract negotiations as soon as Sterling played a certain number of games).
Then comes the plea to the fans for understanding. It's not easy being Sterling, with all those expectations and people creating a false impression, saying you want all that money. He has no idea where these figures come from, anyway. It's all so frustrating.
Next there is the unsubtle hint to potential suitors about his availability. It's always flattering to be linked with those clubs your representative has already got someone to link you with.
Those clubs might even want to sign you, too. It’s not that you really want to leave - you weren't thinking about leaving until that ill-timed £100,000 a week offer messed with your head - but you have been put in a difficult situation.
This must have seemed to play well to Sterling’s agent Aidy Ward when the film was in the can, but the conclusions being drawn this morning is the player has done more harm than good.
From the outset of the negotiations, Sterling’s own advisor pounded the money angle, and the player’s current response was necessary because it backfired so horribly.
It was not the club who sounded the alarm about the first, second and third breakdown in talks. It was not Liverpool who suggested Sterling should be paid a salary worthy of one of Europe's most exciting young players because that is how Brendan Rodgers had the audacity to describe him after an exceptional performance last season. It was not Liverpool who kept going on about ‘market values’ and paying an England international what he is worth.
The ambition line was more cunning, but wholly opportunistic. It is a lot easier to question the likelihood of Liverpool’s Champions League participation next season since their defeat to Manchester United than it was during the unbeaten run.
We've even heard some guff about Sterling being played out of position at wing back, as if this has been a seasonal trend rather than the consequence of an emergency due to injuries or suspensions. For the record, Sterling played wing-back for one half against Swansea and the first half against Manchester United.
He would have been up front in the second against United, but you will recall the small detail of a key player being sent off so the 20-year-old had to fill in at wing back for the rest of the game, too. It was most inconvenient to all concerned - except for those eager to promote the ridiculous notion Sterling is being misused.
We can debate if the desire to win the title will ever be realised under Fenway Sports Group, but we know one undisputable fact. Anfield is far more attractive under them than when Sterling signed in the bankruptcy-threatened final throes of Tom Hicks and George Gillett's reign in 2010.
The difference between then and now is the previous regime was willing to make Sterling the best paid 15-year-old in England. He liked the smell of that ambition, and turned down clubs in a far more promising position at the time because they offered less. Not about the money?
It is worth contrasting Sterling’s situation with that of captain-in-waiting Jordan Henderson, who has avoided the same negative publicity because of the professional approach to his current contract negotiations.
Henderson desperately wants to stay at Liverpool and, privately, will have his frustrations he has not signed despite only having a year left. Henderson could leave on a Bosman in 12 months so his situation is more pressing.
The club knows that and there is a respect between player, club and representative that makes an agreement far more likely.
Unlike Henderson, Sterling gives the impression he is ambivalent about whether he stays at Liverpool.
It was the same in February when in an interview organised by the club Sterling insisted on answering only one question on his future.
A follow-up asking whether he imagined playing for anyone else was met with a rebuke for daring to go beyond the single query limit.
By setting up his own Q&A, Ward hoped his client would look sympathetic, mistreated and 'just a kid who wants to play football'. Instead he looks desperate, ill-advised and a kid besotted with his agent.
If the plan was to appease Liverpool supporters, Sterling's interview was a failure. If the intention was to create a hostile reaction to facilitate a move it made more sense.
There is a fundamental flaw. There are two pesky years left on Sterling’s £35,000 a week deal and a club owner who has shown he is never bullied to sell, only doing so for a ridiculous price. Far from angry with Sterling, the Liverpool hierarchy give the impression they have the biggest cigar in Boston to chew on as they reflect on the folly of the unsanctioned interview.
The next move won't be Liverpool's. Sterling will need a second PR offensive to repair the damage of his offensive PR.