It’s justifiable to scratch your head and wonder why Raheem Sterling is so unhappy. He’s 20, he’s regarded as a key man for Liverpool & England, he earns a fortune, and a glittering career lies ahead. I mean come on, what’s not to like?
Well, unless you’re living Sterling’s world (and none of us are) then who are we to judge? If the prospect of working with Brendan Rodgers again this season leaves him feeling downcast and disillusioned, he must have his reasons.
Manchester City’s money, you’ll say.
Maybe. Although I’m not so sure that’s at the heart of his misery. Since negotiating over a new deal, Sterling has missed out on a mindboggling amount of cash in wages - and not even the spoiltest of spoilt young players could claim the offer of £100,000 a week would make them swerve off the road in angry disappointment. It’s not just a numbers thing.
His Bond-villain type agent Aidy Ward has said it’s down to ‘ambition’, ‘broken promises’ and a ‘breakdown of trust’, and even if he’s handled this saga clumsily, I don’t have reason to doubt that’s at least in part, the truth.
A lot of you will. You’ll assume Sterling, driven by the greed of his ambitious young representative, has ideas above his station and that without justifying it, wrongly believes he’s too good for Liverpool. Time will tell on whether that’s accurate.
I can’t pretend to know what its like to be in Sterling’s situation, but I do know that inside the bubble of professional football many things seem and feel different to how they’re portrayed. Behind closed doors the picture alters.
On a gauge of one to ten, team selection will influence your mood in the region of nine upwards. Frustration at playing out of position (and not doing yourself justice) is amplified within your own head, and the pain of defeat can linger longer than you think.
The little things a manager says or does, impacts players massively on a daily basis too. If an undertaking isn’t delivered, it breeds resentment, ill feeling and a sense of major distrust. The one thing every footballer despises is dishonesty from the boss.
It’s why man-management is such a crucial facet in the make-up of every head coach. Handle a player badly, and you’ll lose him. Single-minded footballers are stubborn creatures.
No boss can keep everyone content - it’s a juggling act I certainly don’t envy – but this isn’t the first time a high-profile relationship has broken down with Rodgers.
“What he was saying to me and what was actually happening were different things,” said Andy Carroll ahead of his return to Liverpool with West Ham. “He was telling me one thing to my face, then I’d leave the training ground and he would ring me and tell me a completely different thing. If the manager is treating me like this, I thought there is no reason for me to be at Liverpool.”
Strong words. And Carroll’s story reminds us that clubs are equally as selfish.
When Liverpool were ‘unhappy’ at the return they were getting from the striker - wanting him off the wage bill so they could invest in others - they didn’t hesitate to hawk his name around, and break the contract. Initially Carroll didn’t want to leave, but in the end he had to. We’re seeing something similar with Robin van Persie at Manchester United now.
There are two sides to every story - and in this case all parties could have dealt with the situation better. Sterling and Ward may be getting pelters, but if Liverpool really did want the player to stay, they clearly made big mistakes in their efforts to convince him.
Personally, I believe that being a regular at Liverpool for the next few years is the best way forward for Raheem Sterling, but now that the trust has been broken between player and manager, one of them has to go. They can’t continue.
A long-faced Sterling is of no use to Liverpool. Before the soap opera descends into further farce and completely sabotages their preparations for the new season, the Reds should grant his wish and sell up.
It will upset them, but are they blameless? I don’t think so.
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