Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rodgers' dangerous game with Sterling deal

Outside the box

Raheem Sterling and Liverpool are at an impasse over his new contract
Raheem Sterling and Liverpool are at an impasse over his new contract
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

When Brendan Rodgers gave his opinion on Raheem Sterling's contract impasse, there were two words that leapt out from the many he spoke of the subject.

The first was "young", or a variation of that. Anybody who is just about old enough can remember how irritating it was when age was brought into the equation as though it had any relevance to the discussion.

Needing to constantly bring ID to get into a pub is one thing but, when a person's age takes priority over what they are trying to say, it becomes very patronising very quickly.

Before the game against Tottenham, Rodgers trod a very fine line between trying to get a dig at Sterling's agent while not annoying the player. When his team are in good form, Rodgers has a habit of being so buoyant that, to borrow the old phrase, his mouth will write cheques that his ass can't cash.

"Raheem has been offered a wonderful deal for a young player"; "what he has been granted at this club is an opportunity. We see that with lots of young players"; "we must not forget this is a 17-year-old boy who was given an opportunity at Liverpool. In the two and half years since he has been introduced into the squad, he has been fantastic but he still has a long way to go."


In normal circumstances, there's nothing particularly incendiary about Rodgers' viewpoints but to put a player's age at the forefront of a conversation about a contract is playing a dangerous game. It is especially the case when, in one of his more bullish moods last season, Rodgers described Sterling, whose contract is up in two years' time, as "the best young player in Europe" which sets the club up to pay him accordingly.

Last week, Rodgers insisted he wasn't talking specifically about Sterling when he said "it is very important that young players have something to strive for. If they get too much too young, then it can sabotage their development"; however the dots could be easily joined if the agent felt like doing so.

The second that stood out from Rodgers' press conference was "worth" which if it's spun in a particular way towards the player, could be even more damaging. "We are not a club that is going to give out way above what a player is worth at a certain time of his career," claimed Rodgers.

Idealistic though it is, the issue of a player's worth ended from the moment the Premier League became awash with cash. What a player is worth, and what they can get elsewhere are two very different things.

The first step of Ashley Cole becoming an English national pariah was to reveal in his book that he almost crashed the car when he discovered Arsenal were "only" offering him £55,000-a-week in their contract negotiations, rather than the £60,000-a-week he was after.

"He (David Dein Arsenal's vice-chairman) is taking the piss, Jonathan!" Cole roared down the phone at his agent. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn't believe what I'd heard."

Being married to one of the most sought-after women in the country meant that Cole wasn't particularly popular anyway, but by opening himself up to being portrayed as a money-grabber, his pariah-process was now accelerating rapidly. Cheating on St Cheryl then completed the process.

Even while he was winning leagues with Chelsea, Cole was more famous for being a surly, money-grabbing philanderer rather than being among the world's best left-backs even though both statements are equally accurate.

Lost among it all was that, as he was nearly crashing his car, Cole was right about Arsenal's style of negotiation which set the wheels in motion for a pattern of the club's best players leaving the club for years to come. It seems, and is, ridiculous to argue about only being offered £55,000-a-week but negotiating what you feel you are worth isn't a phenomenon unique to footballers. With Cole, he was both worth, and able to get, far more.

Sterling isn't at the equivalent level to Cole yet but, with Steven Gerrard leaving and an enormous wedge of money coming to all Premier League clubs in the coming years, he is picking a smart time to negotiate.

Liverpool's offer is believed to be £100,000-a-week which, in the normal world, Sterling certainly isn't worth by comparison to teachers, midwives, nurses and all the other professions which make a genuine day-to-day impact on society.

Sterling is, however, involved in an industry in which Real Madrid have reportedly agreed to pay a Danish 16-year-old somewhere between €40,000- and €80,000-a-week. In comparison to that, Sterling's current €35,000-a-week contract at Liverpool must feel like something of a pittance.

It's always difficult to know whether a club being linked with a player is genuine or an agent's speculation (see Gary Breen to Barcelona circa 2002) but if Madrid have shown an interest in Sterling, wage negotiations will start higher than Liverpool's current offer.

Rodgers wasn't specifically talking about Sterling when he argued against paying high wages to young players because "it is very important for young players to have something to strive for".

That motivation, however, is down to the player and manager and if both are doing their jobs properly, money shouldn't come into it.

Sterling hasn't shown any signs of surliness but, the longer the contract remains unsigned, the more vulnerable he will be to stories like the one earlier in the season when he was reportedly too tired to play for England.

Liverpool, and Rodgers, defended him then and have done an excellent job developing him as a player. It might be morally reprehensible having to justify paying only £100,000-a-week rather than £120,000 but it works out at "only" an extra million per year - considerably less than it would cost to replace him.

In a world where a club finishing bottom of the Premier League will earn £99m for television money in a couple of years' time, it might be a small price to pay.

Tweets of the week


GARY LINEKER (@GaryLineker)

@PaulMcCarthy66 if I was I'd tell you that he was sacked by one of the owners' family and reinstated by another, but then I'm not.

The 'Match of the Day' presenter tells the former 'News Of The World' sports editor some things he doesn't know about Nigel Pearson's 'sacking'


MITCHELLl WEISER (@Mitch23elijah)

I'm young. I make mistakes. I'll learn from it. Now concentrate on the important things!.

The Bayern Munich youngster plays down posting a rather revealing picture of himself and David Alaba (above) on social media.


RONNIE WHELAN (@WhelanRonnie5)

Why is Michael Owen talking shit saying Lukaku did everything he should to miss that chance. 5 yard sitter

The former Liverpool star, turned pundit, has a difference of opinion with somebody of the same ilk.


JACK COLLISON (@Jcollison31)

Absolutely Working my c##k off..... I'm ready to roll...get me on that pitch .

The former West Ham man gives a rather graphic version of his fight for fitness


TONI KROOS (@ToniKroos)

Happy Birthday to the greatest entertainer of our time ! @robbiewilliams #legend

In the pantheon of random Twitter relationships, this one between the German midfielder and the former Take That singer is right up there.




50 shades of averageness!

There's an easy and unnecessarily mean comment that could be made here. But we won't.


JOEY BARTON (@Joey7Barton)

Lovely lazy Sunday

The name of the book, 'Nausea' by Jean Paul Sartre, seems rather appropriate for this tweet from the Queens Park Rangers midfielder

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