Manchester City consider Liverpool’s £50m-plus asking price for Raheem Sterling to be way over a reasonable valuation and their second bid for the player is unlikely to be anywhere near that figure.
Liverpool rejected a £30m verbal offer for Sterling earlier this week and indicated that City’s proposition was around £20m short of his value.
But despite City’s determination to go back in for the 20-year-old – and their preparations for what is likely to be a rapid move for Juventus’ Paul Pogba – it is an article of faith at the club that their days of paying over the odds for players are in the past.
Their second bid is likely to be around £35m, with the £100,000-a-week wages the Anfield club have offered to Sterling seen as evidence by the City board that he does not carry the transfer fee of one of the world’s elite players.
City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak reinforced his club’s belief earlier this week that they are a team for aspirational players and that the Premier League runners-up – who have offered £25m plus £5m add-ons for Sterling – do not have to pay inflated prices.
Though the expected relaxation of Uefa’s financial fair play rules are likely to give City far more room to manoeuvre in the market, they are averse to spending what they knew internally to be a “City price” in the days when money was the only attraction for players.
A £40m deal seems to be the very limit of what Liverpool could expect and the next bid could be £35m. City want to do their business early, before they prepare to travel to Australia for their pre-season tour, and as always they have done much of the groundwork on their targets, including Pogba. Though La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested yesterday that City had offered the defeated Champions League finalists £58m for the former Manchester United player, a bid is unlikely to be so high. But City do seem poised to make an offer.
Liverpool’s hand is strengthened by City’s lack of home-grown players. But City are helped by the fact that there may not be such a Dutch auction for Sterling at a £50m price as might be thought. There is uncertainty at Real Madrid, for instance, as to whether Sterling is capable of coping mentally with the pressures of life at the Bernabeu at this moment.
The new Real coach, Rafael Benitez, believes he probably would be tough enough, though there is minimal talk of Sterling in Spain.
Liverpool’s decision is now whether to let Sterling go for less than a to- bracket fee or to keep him against his wishes in the hope that his form will turn the corner with them. His departure is certainly not seen as a foregone conclusion at Anfield and hope remains that he will be at the club next season.