What If Raheem Sterling Leaves Liverpool And Becomes The Player His Talent Demands He Should Be?

Everybody in football has a sharp take on Raheem Sterling's contract situation it seems. The 20-year-old, who reportedly wants away from Anfield, was booed by some Liverpool fans and begged to stay by others, as he collected his young player of the year award on Tuesday. 

All angles have been straddled by the ravenous media, but the majority would have Sterling shot at dawn for his deemed impudence (just don't give the gun to one of Liverpool's strikers). Players-turned-pundits like Jamie Carragher and Dietmar Hamann have joined journalists in the roast of Raheem, with the common thread that his career is obviously best served staying at the club that his nurtured his talent thus far.

Many find the notion of Sterling turning down £100,000 a week to be a filthy indictment of what the game is today. Sterling's agent Aidy Ward has been heavily criticised for his part in the process, with one writer claiming Ward is about to ruin Sterling's "whole football career".

Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Premier League : News Photo

Ward isn't about to do anything of the sort. Having met the man myself I can vouch for an agent who is a long way removed from the mercenary moneymaker he is being portrayed to be in some quarters. Ward's bond with Sterling is a tight one, and of course he wants the best for his client. If that means turning down the wrong deal at the wrong club, then he's doing his job right.

Imagine if you were Ward and Sterling your client. Liverpool are offering £100k a week for a player who is arguably England's most exciting young talent. It's a very good offer financially, and perhaps one Sterling and Ward would leap at if they truly believed Liverpool were on the road back to glory.

But the truth is they're not. There won't be Champions League football at Anfield next season and it's hard to imagine a world where Liverpool are challenging for the Premier League title in the next three seasons - unless of course Luis Suarez bites someone at Barcelona and gets sent back to Merseyside.

Sterling is young, but he's not that young. As a player who relies heavily on his acceleration, his best years may well come in his early-to-mid 20s - just as they did for Michael Owen. If that's the case, then there's no time to waste and no obligation to a club simply because they've paid Sterling's wages and let him play in their first team.

Liverpool didn't sign Sterling from Queens Park Rangers as a charitable gesture to his footballing development. They signed him because they saw a prospect capable of being a first-team player in his teens and potentially a world beater thereafter. Loyalty is an over-used word in professional sport, where even the most emotional of decisions are usually backed up by sound financial reasoning.

Every opportunity Sterling has had at Liverpool he's earned. Every time Brendan Rodgers has started Sterling in a red shirt it was because he believed him to be the best man to get the job man. 

Sky Sports pundit Tony Gale believes Sterling "owes" it to Rodgers to sign a new Liverpool deal, but Gale seems to be missing some rather key points here - not least that Rodgers could be gone by the end of the year if Liverpool don't deliver a strong start to the season.

Liverpool v Newcastle United - Premier League : News Photo

What then for Sterling? Would all the pundits calling for him to stay true to Rodgers ask that he do so for the next man in as well? What if that man is a coach who doesn't rate Sterling so highly, or plays to a style that doesn't fit his game as well? What if he takes Liverpool even further away from the place Sterling needs to be.

It's easy to understand the frustration of the Liverpool fans who booed Sterling, just as it is to see why some Manchester United supporters are riled by David De Gea's seemingly imminent move to Madrid. These are big-time players with big-time futures. It's like losing your first girlfriend all over again.

Before we rush to judge Sterling, however, let's consider the possibility that a move may well be the best thing for his career. It's a bitter pill for Liverpool fans to swallow, but perhaps it's the home truth the club needs to realize the season they've just had has been a huge step backwards.

They'll be those saying Sterling won't play regularly at another big club, but think hard about that argument and it works against him staying at Liverpool too. After all, a club with such little depth that a player starts regardless of his form might be a breeding ground for complacency and frustration.

There would be no complacency at Manchester City or Chelsea for Sterling. Even Arsenal have more competition for forward places, and what of the tantalising thought Sterling might play under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Could that be the making of the man?

It's an easy conclusion to draw the Sterling is best served staying at Liverpool, but anything more than a season away from Champions League football would be a serious waste of development time for the 20-year-old. 

If you were his agent, you'd be far closer to pushing for a move away from Anfield than you think you would.