Wednesday 24 January 2018

€70m Raheem Sterling has lost the PR battle

Liverpool winger and his agent hope to drive a wedge between themselves and the club to force a move, but they are playing a dangerous game

Raheem Sterling, pictured, will make a decision on his future in the summer
Raheem Sterling, pictured, will make a decision on his future in the summer

Chris Bascombe

Now Raheem Sterling is hoping some good old-fashioned political warfare will get him out of Liverpool.

The plan is to drive such a wedge between Sterling and his club, Liverpool will not only want to sell him to Manchester City, they will quite happily drive him to Manuel Pellegrini’s front door.

The strategy of Sterling and his agent Aidy Ward is nourished by the antipathy generated by public confirmation of a desire to leave – not yet described as a ‘transfer request’ because that would involve losing money (even though we are again being reminded it is not about money).

No amount of feet stamping will change the fact Sterling still has two years left on his contract and faces the obstacle of a Liverpool owner with an aversion to blinking during negotiations.

Should City bid £50 million and pay the £35 million wages Sterling will command over the next five years, there is chance a resolution can be found swiftly. The compulsion to force the issue by giving the impression Sterling has been poorly treated by his club suggests there are none prepared to meet that valuation, so efforts to make the 20-year-old’s position untenable have intensified.

There is probably a perverse hope he will be targeted by the away fans in the Britannia Stadium during Liverpool’s final Premier League game at Stoke this weekend.

It is not the fact Sterling wants to leave Liverpool that is particularly objectionable or surprising after the last 12 months – or indeed given the way he arrived on Merseyside five years ago - but it is the manner in which he is going about it that has become the story, and will remain so as each side settles into its trench for the summer.

Players have wanted out of Anfield before (with increasing regularity) and it is a reflection of the times that so many are now passing through Merseyside.

Whether it is Sterling, Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano or Xabi Alonso, Liverpool has to start looking at how it is functioning and recognise its image of itself as one of Europe’s elite has been eroded. What used to be the ultimate destination is now a pitstop.

When Suarez’s representatives decided to adopt similar tactics in the summer of 2013, John W. Henry stood firm and ensured the striker left on mutually beneficial terms a year later. Fenway Sports Group, whose main armoury is usually a calculator, have already worked out they won’t lose so much if they hold Sterling to his current £35,000 a week for one more year.

If the player then decides to sit tight until that expires in order to leave for free, the financial loss will be his as much as his club’s.

If Sterling’s script solely contained references to the lack of Champions League football, a mistrust about the direction of the club following Suarez and now Steven Gerrard’s exit, and a broader concern that those in control of ‘strategy’ keep making serious mistakes, the up-start-ism would be no less startling but at least he’d have more sympathy.

Instead, the haphazard claims on his behalf veer dangerously towards the preposterous, especially when it is argued ‘media briefings’ about contract details have upset him. The tit-for-tat began when the representatives started to imply Liverpool were undervaluing a player Brendan Rodgers had described as ‘one of the best young talents in Europe’.

It rather feels like the school bully has thrown the first punch, only to recoil in horror when a couple of jabs have been aimed back. Now he is running off aghast, playing the unfair treatment card.

The presumption is this can end only one way, with Sterling’s sale to Manchester City or another Champions League club. That may prove the case, but all we have at this moment is an escalation in the sniping.

“The ball is in Liverpool’s court,” is one of the suggestions, but that is not really the case. It rather looks like it is in Manchester City’s, or whoever else thinks so highly of Sterling they will pursue him during this transfer window.

All those who are still insisting it is not about money would be wise to tell that to those who are facing an £85 million bill. There is a price to be paid for all this, and it is not solely at Liverpool’s expense.

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