Comment: Liverpool must sell Raheem Sterling now – but only for the right price
It should now move into a hard-headed, non-emotive and controlled business negotiation.
Not as to whether Raheem Sterling should stay at Liverpool or sign a new contract but as to what price can be achieved for him when he is put up for sale this summer.
Selling Sterling will ultimately be a sign of strength, not one of weakness, from Liverpool – as long as they do it on their terms. As the famous sign says: This is Anfield.
That agreement should come with one key caveat: the price has to be right.
Sterling and his agent, Aidy Ward, have spent months trying to force the issue, trying to position themselves as simply ambitious, not avaricious, and apparently wanting to do the best for themselves in sporting terms which is their prerogative.
But it does not really matter, does it? It is not really about the PR battle even if countless transfers have been dressed up in the past to conceal the truth.
If Sterling does not want to stay at Liverpool, then fair enough. His agent has pointed out he is not from Liverpool – as if anyone needed to be told that and as if it was relevant anyway. We know there are no emotional ties. We also know that Liverpool poached him themselves from Queens Park Rangers.
It is understandable why Liverpool have cancelled the meeting scheduled to take place on Friday at the club’s training ground, Melwood, between Ian Ayre, the chief executive and Ward, in the light of the agent’s hostile comments in the London Evening Standard newspaper.
Liverpool should not be bounced into anything, especially as Ward has made his aggressive agenda clear and has apparently no intention of discussing a new deal.
Showing your hand in advance quite so obviously is not the cleverest of bargaining positions either.
Charmingly, Ward is quoted as saying he “didn’t care” about the damage being done to the club’s image before aiming an abusive remark at the former player turned pundit Jamie Carragher.
But the two sides do have to eventually meet – when Liverpool are ready. When that happens or, indeed, before then if Ward really wants to push the timetable, Sterling needs to do two things: firstly apologise for some of the intemperate language that has been used by his agent and secondly produce a written transfer request.
Sterling has two years left on his contract which pays him around £35,000-a-week. Having balked at a new five-year deal of £100,000-a-week. He has said it is not about the money – so hold him to that.
A transfer request will help forego any loyalty bonuses or contractual payments Sterling is due and will help make the saga more formal. It is not about the semantics of the situation and it should encourage bids.
The presumption is that Ayre will remind Ward of the term still left on his client’s present deal and also reiterate the intention of Fenway Sports Group and the club’s principle owner, John W Henry, who is not known for being a pushover, that Sterling is not for sale. But that should be a negotiating position.
Ayre will presumably also try to talk numbers – the new long-term contract that Liverpool want Sterling to sign and the multiples of increase that he can expect on his wages. But he should not bother.
Liverpool will also stress the importance of Sterling to them and how they can be good for him and how they all share the same ambitions. But they should not bother with that either.
Instead Ayre should accept the transfer request and inform Ward of Liverpool’s valuation for Sterling which appears to hover close to the £50million mark. If any club meets that or gets close then, Ayre should say Sterling can go. If they do not then he stays.
As a further stipulation Liverpool should set a deadline of their choosing as to when a deal has to be struck – in the way that Jose Mourinho set Manchester United a very clear deadline when they wanted to sign Juan Mata. They need to give themselves time to use the Sterling money to help improve their team. This is not a sale that goes down to the deadline.
Liverpool, as Steven Gerrard, pointed out last week, can be a “brutal club” – brutal in its size and expectation and its history and also on the demands of its supporters.
Sterling is already playing a dangerous game – he is only just out of his teens, he has had a difficult season on the pitch – but it has been stated often enough that he is a strong character who knows his own mind and who is not in thrall to his agent.
But the mind also flicks back to last summer, before the World Cup, when, at England’s training camp in Portugal, Gerrard was due to speak to the Sunday national newspapers.
It was always going to be a difficult briefing for Gerrard, not because he would face any hostile questions, but because it was the first time he had spoken publicly since Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge had failed so cruelly. So he had to deal with that – which he did.
Gerrard insisted that Sterling joined him and sat next to him around the table. Not to be quizzed – although he was asked questions – but for the experience and to witness what it is like to be involved in such a press briefing. Gerrard negotiated it well but also wanted to help carefully chaperone Sterling when, nervously, he began speaking about himself.
At that point it seemed inconceivable that Sterling would be better off anywhere else than Liverpool – or that he would think that himself. It is what makes all of this a shame because there is a nagging sense that he should simply stay where he is.
Sterling can argue that, at that point, it also seemed inconceivable that Gerrard would be going. But he is. Luis Suárez has gone, Carragher retired, Liverpool are out of the Champions League places and with a team that needs rebuilding and a manager, Brendan Rodgers, who is under pressure. There is a huge amount of uncertainty.
Maybe also Sterling looks around the Liverpool dressing room now and concludes that he does not have enough faith in this group of players – or the manager or the club – and does not want to waste time. Again that is his prerogative.