If you strip it down and judge them by their performances this season alone, Raheem Sterling deserves to be paid more than his Liverpool team-mate Stewart Downing.
You can be sure the whiz-kid’s agent reminded hands-on manager Brendan Rodgers and managing director Ian Ayre of that undisputable fact, more than once, during the protracted contract negotiations which preceded Sterling’s 18th birthday last week.
It turned out to be a milestone that passed by in disappointing fashion for the Anfield hierarchy. Able under FA rules to sign his first long-term professional contract, Liverpool had hoped and expected the Jamaican-born winger to bite their hands off at a generous 15-fold increase, lifting his earnings from £2,000 a week to a reported £30,000 a week. That’s a not-too-shabby basic salary of £1.56million a year *coughs* for a teenager.
However, Sterling, or should I say Sterling’s management team, have shaken their heads at it, and replied to Rodgers and Ayre with a big fat no. Why? Because they say, less influential team-mates such as Downing are on well over double that sum.
No. No it isn’t. That’s not how it works in football, and his advisors are completely missing the point.
Raheem Sterling has to date made just 27 first team appearances for Liverpool. He’s looked mature, skilful, fearless, and extremely dangerous; even though he’s only actually delivered one goal himself so far.
Is that, albeit impressive, start to the youngster’s career truly worthy of catapulting him to a level where he’s earning the same as Downing, who produced the goods consistently enough for a decade at the highest level to be rewarded with that kind of an offer? I honestly don’t think it is.
One step at a time Raheem…
Handling the pressure of performing on the worldwide Premier League stage at 17 is admirable and it’s one thing, but is he also mature enough to handle the responsibility of obscene amounts of cash burning a hole in his pocket?
Sometimes you have to think of the children, and despite reportedly having three of his own already, Sterling is barely out of short trousers himself.
Hunger is an important factor that has to be considered. An excitable, lively young pup he may be, but Sterling’s also human and a five-year deal worth £10million or more can affect different people in varying ways.
Give someone too much, too soon and you always run the risk of a players’ edge turning smooth.
I don’t often sympathise with football clubs, but I really feel for Liverpool on this one. They are doing exactly the right thing; not just for themselves but for the boy himself.
Their offer is high, fair, and with the best interests of the player at heart. Yet now, unless their super-fast wide man does a swift about-turn the Reds run the risk of losing their prize asset for next to nothing in compensation when his contract expires in 2014. Or, as is more likely being forced to sell him to one of their rivals in the near future.
This is a player that’s going to earn a considerable amount of cash from the game. He’s already doing OK if you ask me, with his £100,000 a year plus bonuses, but by the time he celebrates his 21st, Sterling will be in a fortunate position where he never has to do another day’s work again.
Home grown players have always had a raw deal when it comes to wages. When you start at the very bottom of the pile, like I did on £27.50 a week YTS pay packets, it’s all about working your way up to the big boys. Work hard, prove you’re worthy of a place in the first team, and we’ll reward you accordingly. That was Arsenal’s advice to me and it was a carrot I was more than willing to strive for.
If Raheem Sterling’s agent truly has his clients’ best interests at heart he’ll advise the teenager to sign what’s on offer, continue his development under a manager that clearly loves him to bits, and promise that once he’s worthy of another juicy pay rise they’ll knock Ian Ayre’s door down.
You don’t need a long career to make a lot of money out football, but if you want a long career, often it’s best not to take on too much, too early.
If Raheem Sterling continues his rapid development at Liverpool he has nothing to worry about. He’ll be earning double what players like Stewart Downing take home, in no time.