Huff and puff from Sterling a distraction
Shisha pipe controversy for Liverpool star comes at time when he's irked fans over stalling on deal
Raheem Sterling has become embroiled in fresh controversy after a photograph emerged of the Liverpool forward appearing to puff on a shisha pipe.
Sterling, 20, has infuriated many Liverpool fans and former players by stalling on a £100,000-a-week contract offer, although he has insisted that it has nothing to do with money and he would reconsider his options at the end of the season.
The England international was heckled by supporters at Anfield at the launch on Friday of the club's new kit, with one shouting, "Make sure we see you in it next season".
Yesterday, a Sunday newspaper carried the picture of Sterling with the pipe, under the headline, "He's bong to rights".
Liverpool declined to comment on the photograph, but Arsenal were known to be unhappy when Jack Wilshere was pictured in February smoking a shisha pipe.
There was more positive news yesterday for Liverpool on another young talent, the teenager Jordon Ibe, who is expected to sign a new contract in the next month.
Ibe has missed the past month due to a knee problem, but he will return to the Liverpool squad for the match against Newcastle United tonight.
Negotiations over a new long-term deal have been ongoing and the club believe a breakthrough has been reached, with the player likely to commit to Anfield until at least 2020. His existing deal runs out in 2017.
Ibe has become a favourite of Brendan Rodgers since returning from a loan spell at Derby County in January, the only frustration being that he played in the FA Cup for the Championship team, ensuring that he is ineligible for the semi-final with Aston Villa next Sunday.
Rodgers, meanwhile, accepts that he will have to wait until next season before Daniel Sturridge is back to his best, due to his injury-hit campaign.
Sturridge's succession of calf and thigh problems blunted Liverpool's striking options and since his comeback, he has been struggling to find his touch, despite three goals.
"I knew that would be the case when he was first coming back," Rodgers said.
"It's a long time out. When you're out for that length of time, it maybe takes you the same amount of time to get back again.
"The key for him was to get back and be fit, but he needs a good pre-season under his belt, a total run at pre-season and hopefully he'll be fine for next season. Until that point, we have to maximise what we can get out of him.
"Everybody is different when they get injured and how they deal with it. A player will never be 100pc fit, more or less, when he plays. They're always carrying something.
"If it hinders performance, then you can only trust the player that he cannot give any more or they can't operate at the level they want to because of injury.
"With Daniel, there's been a number of injuries. He had a fairly sustained run last season and served us well, but this season has been difficult."
Meanwhile, John Carver has told his employers at Newcastle United that the club's recruitment policy needs to be changed to take more account of players' character.
Currently Newcastle, under the instruction of owner Mike Ashley, look to sign bargains from abroad who have resale value. The players are scouted by Graham Carr and then handed over to whoever is head coach of the first team - until the end of the season, Carver.
For the first time in their history, the Magpies have lost five successive derbies to fierce rivals Sunderland. And Carver, who must somehow lift those players against Liverpool at Anfield tonight, has admitted that key elements of character have sometimes been overlooked when potential signings are under consideration.
"If you're dealing in the French market or the German market or the Spanish market, then it's very difficult to find out a little bit about (players') personality, about how they are around the place," he said.
"It's dead easy if you're dealing with a British club. I could, say, pick up the phone to Steve Clarke at Reading and say, 'What's X, Y, or Z like'? because you've got your own contacts.
"With the amount of foreign players coming in now, it's a tougher situation, but you have to try and find out as much as you can about the player.
"There's something in the make-up of this group - and I say within their DNA - that when it comes to a derby game, there's something not right.
"I've been delighted with their response (to) the disappointment. They're hurting - and they should be hurting. But actions speak louder than words."
Stagnant since the turn of the year, when Carver took over from Alan Pardew, Newcastle have lost their last four games and won only two of their last 13.
Liverpool v Newcastle Utd
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