Sterling could be right to move – and not just for the money
It is nonsense to say the player owes Liverpool and that he would develop best there
Raheem Sterling: are Brendan Rodgers and Daniel Sturridge the sort of role models that are going to lead him to the top of the game? Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
A little over two years ago, Raheem Sterling told the Daily Mail: “I don’t think I’m famous. I suppose a few people know me, but it’s not changed me. I will always be the same Raheem.” In the same interview he said: “for anyone my age it’s a real honour to play for such a big club”.
The boy who thought nobody knew him is now one of the most famous men in Britain. The UK general election is only a month away, but last week Sterling took more media flak than Cameron and Miliband combined.
His crime is to have made it clear that he no longer feels honoured merely to be playing for Liverpool. Even £100,000 a week wasn’t enough to persuade him to agree to play for them for a few more years.
It’s not surprising that people who don’t understand anything about the economics of football get annoyed when they hear that some 20-year old megalomaniac has apparently turned up his nose at £5 million a year.
If these people had been paying attention they might have noticed some news a while back about the Premier League signing a new TV deal worth more than £5 billion over three years.
They might have seen the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore glowing with pride and even amazement as he explained the new deal was worth 70 per cent more than the previous deal, which itself had been worth 70 per cent more than the one before.
If they’d been listening to all that, they might conclude it was fair that players like Sterling should be seeing big increases in their pay – unless they’re the sort of people who think the extra income should go to the owners, rather than the workers.
More surprising is the negativity towards Sterling from people who do know the game. Jamie Carragher, Graeme Souness, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Alan Shearer are among the pundits who have lectured him through the media. All agree that he’d be making a mistake to leave Liverpool now.
There are a range of arguments for that view, some sounder than others. The silliest argument is that Sterling owes a debt of gratitude to Liverpool because they “showed faith in him at a young age”. The truth is that Liverpool put him in the team when he was 17 because they didn’t have anyone better. They weren’t doing him a favour. Every time he played for them, it was because he earned it. He owes them nothing.
Gilded irrelevanceA more reasonable argument is that Sterling should stay at Liverpool because he will be in their team every week. If he joined a more powerful club he might struggle to be picked and become a gilded irrelevance, a new Scott Sinclair, Liam Miller or Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Certainly if Sterling joined a stronger squad he would have to work harder to get into the first team. But that struggle in itself could be a powerful engine of improvement. The notion that simply playing every week is the best way for Sterling to develop is oversimplified. Actually, the best way for him to develop is by playing every week with better players than himself.
There is no better way for a young player to improve than by watching a master in action. Paul Scholes was inspired by the example of Eric Cantona. The young Robin van Persie absorbed the importance of focus and dedication from Dennis Bergkamp. Liam Brady cites John Giles as one of the main influences on his early career.
Even the greatest young players need role models to look up to if they are to fulfil their potential. Pep Guardiola, for example, is acutely conscious of this. His first act as Barcelona manager was to get rid of the party boys Ronaldinho and Deco. They were still two of Barcelona’s best players, but Guardiola worried they would be a bad influence on the young Lionel Messi.
Sterling was lucky enough to play alongside one of the best players in the world for a couple of seasons, and he learned a lot from the experience, but Luis Suárez plays for Barcelona now.
After Liverpool lost 4-1 to Arsenal on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers spent much of his post-match press conference criticising Sterling’s agent, Aidy Ward. It’s easy for a manager to criticise an agent since nobody likes or trusts agents, and if by doing so the manager can avoid talking about a heavy defeat, so much the better.
Maximise his potentialHowever, it should be remembered that nobody’s interests are more directly bound up with Sterling’s than Ward’s. If he is to maximise his own earnings over the player’s career, he needs Sterling to maximise his potential.
Right now, Ward might be looking at Liverpool’s squad and wondering: who is there to show him the way? Are Brendan Rodgers and Daniel Sturridge the sort of role models that are going to lead him to the top of the game?
Already it would be hard to argue that Sterling has played any better this season than last. Ward can’t afford to be complacent. If he feels there’s a danger Sterling’s development could be stalling at Liverpool, he has to look at the options. So when Sterling says the current impasse is not about money, he might just be telling the truth.