Sunday 17 December 2017

Sterling gets early education in how to play the game

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

When it looked like I had made a full recovery from my hip injury and was fit to return to professional football after almost three years in retirement, my agent was called for discussions with Sunderland. Agreement was reached very early on a lot of issues, and it seemed as if the deal would be done without any fuss.

There was no problem with wages, appearance money and goal bonuses. The potentially sticky issue of the insurance pay-out I received was settled too. My hope was that I would play no part in the talks but it didn't turn out that way.

Niall Quinn was club chairman at the time. He rang me in the hope that I would talk some sense into my agent or overrule him on a couple of his demands. Quinn's difficulties centred on the seven-figure sum that we had asked for if promotion was achieved while I was in the team. He couldn't make any sense either of the request that a significant portion of my sell-on value would go to me if I was ever sold. He obviously got nowhere with my agent so he came to me.

I was embarrassed. I found myself agreeing with everything he was saying but knew I couldn't break ranks from my agent. Quinn knew exactly what to say and how to talk me round. How could I be asking for so much when I had been out of the game for so long? I was demanding far too much too soon and I knew it. But it wasn't me demanding it, and left to my own devices I'd have settled for a lot less. And that's exactly why players have agents. They'll go way beyond what's reasonable and usually they'll succeed.

Liverpool's 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling is in negotiations with the club for an extension to his existing deal. Reports suggest he is asking for weekly wages in the region of £60,000. He currently earns £3,700 a week. He turns 18 this month and has 18 months to go on his existing deal. Brendan Rodgers has publicly urged him and his advisers not to be foolish and to sign very quickly.

Just as Quinn did with me, Rodgers spoke to the press about the opportunities Sterling has at the club. It's what football people do and it can be an effective approach. The emphasis is on playing for the team and improving as a player. You're told that nothing else should matter at this point in your career. What makes it even more difficult to reject is that it is being delivered by your manager. You don't stand a chance if you go it alone.

Sterling has already been capped at senior level by England and is a regular this season at Liverpool. Placing a value on his potential is difficult but Liverpool have already shown their limits in this area in their dealings with Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll. Having ridiculously over-paid for all three, you can understand the demands being made by Sterling's advisors. It's hard to accuse anyone of over-reaching in a club that values Carroll at £35m.

And it's a major failing on their part that a lengthy contract has not already been agreed despite the fact that he couldn't sign one before turning 18. If Liverpool choose not to meet his demands, he will go to a club that will. His value has been rapidly increasing since the summer but he could go for a nominal compensation fee in 18 months if he wants. Rodgers can plea to the sensibilities of his agent all he likes, but the club have allowed the scenario to develop to the stage where they no longer hold any cards.

Sterling will be accused of greed and I'm sure the senior players will be asked to have a word. Fans might turn on him if he delays much longer and the pressure to sign will increase all the time. But having advisors there to buffer the club's advances will increase his chances of getting just what he's after.

Two operations on my right ankle delayed my comeback at Sunderland and my hip injury finally ended it. Agreement was never reached on that deal but the importance of having advisors was very clear. Where I would have crumbled to the pleas of someone I respected, there was no flinching from my agent at any point. I would have earned far more than I was worth if I had stayed fit.

Sterling's advisors are just doing their job, and if he ends up leaving it will be because Liverpool haven't done theirs properly. This should have been resolved before now. I initially thought he was going too far by asking for so much at this stage of his career but I could have instructed my agent to lower his demands and I didn't. I would have signed for a lot less but I never considered telling Quinn this. Even I wouldn't have been that naive. Liverpool, not Sterling, could end up being the naive ones in this struggle.

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