Thursday 14 November 2019

Richie Sadlier: Raheem Sterling has an obligation to look to maximise his value

Trophy winning potential aside, simple mathematics makes it a no-brainer, writes Richard Sadlier

'Raheem Sterling will never get the opportunity to turn back the clock.' Photo: Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley
'Raheem Sterling will never get the opportunity to turn back the clock.' Photo: Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley

Richard Sadlier

Liam Miller was offered a new deal by Celtic in late 2003. He had been at the club since he was 16 and was playing the best football of his career. Only months earlier he had been a regular in the reserves but he was now attracting interest from Manchester United.

Talks with Celtic weren’t going the way the club would have liked. Miller didn’t accept their first offer, which bought time for other clubs to show their hand. Celtic manager Martin O’Neill tried to convince him his future was at Celtic Park and many ex-players gave newspaper and radio interviews saying the same. I worked for the agency that represented Miller at the time, and once all his options were known, leaving Scotland for Old Trafford became a no-brainer.

Raheem Sterling is in a similar position with Liverpool right now and the narrative is pretty straightforward to a lot of people. In failing to agree terms on a new deal with the club, Sterling is perceived as greedy, disloyal and poorly advised. His agent has been painted as a corrosive influence on the game itself, and apparently it’s sad to see one of the great institutions of British football being held to ransom by a kid who owes them everything. One report even suggested that Sterling’s behaviour was damaging the cause of young players everywhere.

Included in that behaviour was an unsanctioned interview he gave to the BBC last week in which he outlined his position as best he could.

He insisted that he wasn’t being driven solely by money and that his focus has always been on winning trophies. It was widely reported as a PR own-goal by a player too naïve to know better. As you’d expect, his agent Aidy Ward is the one taking the blame.

However, the reaction to the interview could have been Ward’s intention — create a hostile environment for Sterling which would help facilitate a summer move. We don’t know. He will have played a blinder for his client if it works out that way, but again, we don’t know if that’s what he wants. Turning down £100,000 a week could have been the most obvious course of action to someone fully aware of the alternative options. Ward may be the one taking most of the flak for Sterling’s behaviour, but he’s the best informed of anyone involved.

It’s easy to depict him as the villain of the piece. It’s easy to mock a player who rejects the suggestion he is a money-grabber when some reports suggest he wants a weekly wage of £180,000. And it’s all too easy to assume Liverpool is the best place for his development just because he’s likely to play every week.

But there’s a bigger picture here that people need to appreciate and Sterling is absolutely right to reject a deal if he knows he can get more.

If most of the criticism aimed at Sterling is that he is too driven by money, then some quick sums could help. Over the course of a four-year deal, the difference between £100,000 and £180,000 a week is more than £16.5m. It’s over £20m if it’s a five-year deal. If that is on the table from another club, presumably one with greater trophy-winning potential than Liverpool, Sterling would be insane to turn it down and Ward wouldn’t be doing his job if he let him.

Miller didn’t make the kind of impact at United that was hoped when he first signed. He made only nine league appearances throughout his time at the club and was loaned out to Leeds United. He moved to Sunderland two years later for free. Some would point to the trajectory of his career as a cautionary tale for the likes of Sterling, but equally it could be used to make the opposite point. Given that nobody can predict how you’ll develop as a footballer, climbing the ladder as quick as you can is the best way to go.

Miller has said publicly he has no regrets about going to United when he did. He is not left with any ‘what ifs?’ about rejecting the best offer from the biggest club out of fear he might not play.

Sterling will one day be the age Miller is now and only then will he realise the implications of the decisions he took. He will never get the opportunity to turn back the clock and do it again, so now is the time to make the most of the chance that he has.

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