Patronised and pilloried but Sterling has done little wrong
Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30
Greedy footballers, eh? An England international of substantial but hardly world-class talent turns down a lavish contract offer from his current club and threatens to leave for a rival, using the convenient fig leaf of being played "out of position".
Still, this is a column about Raheem Sterling, not James Milner, so we shall have to leave that one there for now.
It is interesting, though. Milner, according to reports, is turning his nose up at a basic salary of £135,000-a-week, rising to £165,000 with incentives, and scarcely anyone bats an eyelid.
Sterling kicks up a fuss to try to engineer an advance on his current £35,000-a-week, and football's synapses tingle red with rage. Clearly, there are other forces at work here.
Since giving that ill-advised interview to the BBC last month, Sterling has found himself in a public pillory that will be familiar to any talented young footballer who deigns to improve his circumstances. There are currently seven Twitter parody accounts with the name 'Greedy Sterling'.
The more fundamentalist fans advocate "letting him rot" in the reserves until his contract runs out, employing the watertight logic that Sterling is a lazy mercenary, and must thus be punished by getting paid for doing no work.
The latest impasse has mobilised the large standing army of former Liverpool players in the media to put Sterling firmly back in his cot.
"For a 20-year-old kid to be taking on Liverpool Football Club over a contract, to the pit of my stomach that just winds me up, it angers me," Jamie Carragher said on Monday night.
"He's a 20-year-old boy who has achieved nothing," according to John Barnes.
"He's not wise enough, he's not clever enough at a young age to actually go out into the media and do these things," spat Phil Thompson.
They all mentioned Sterling's youth. Sterling might be old enough to play professional football, old enough to go to a World Cup, old enough to become a father, pay tax or align himself politically (he backed Labour candidate Dawn Butler at the recent election), but asking his employer for more money?
Know your place, child!
Now, we can bicker and quibble about what footballers are worth. We could argue whether by bringing pleasure to millions of people, Sterling is more deserving of his comparatively meagre fortune than, say, Liverpool owner John Henry, who became a billionaire largely on the strength of his ability to move money around.
And we can speculate that perhaps Sterling is being condemned not so much for wanting a better deal, but rather for the way he has gone about it: the cloak-and-dagger machinations, the nudge-nudge briefings, the atrocious timing.
But Sterling's case underlines the fact that people are deeply uneasy at the sight of young, working-class men earning large sums of money. After all, we reason, they will only blow it all on silly things like hats, or apps, or personalised number plates, or Haribo.
Frequently, you will hear the vaguely paternalistic claim that Sterling is being "badly advised"; or in other words, that this doe-eyed ingenue has far more pocket money than he knows what to do with, and should really put it in some sort of trust fund to be withdrawn when he has reached an acceptable threshold of maturity: perhaps the first time he plays golf.
"How will he be thought of for the rest of his career?" Carragher beseeched, as if any of us would turn down a vastly improved salary in order to be better thought of in the village.
We are intrinsically, nonchalantly comfortable with rich old people.
Rich young people - or even self-sufficient young people - are viewed with increasing distaste by a generation that has itself enjoyed outrageous economic advantages over recent decades.
As young people slip further and further behind their parents' generation, they find themselves disfranchised and demeaned well into their 20s: cut their benefits, sign them up to zero-hours contracts, keep them off the housing ladder.
And if they still make it? Patronise them, mercilessly and ceaselessly.
Sterling claimed in his BBC interview that he did not want to be portrayed as a "money-grabbing 20-year-old".
Frankly, 20-year-olds need to be as money-grabbing as they can.