RAHEEM Sterling wants more money. Raheem Sterling wants Champions League football. Raheem Sterling feels bullied by Liverpool Football club. Raheem Sterling should be embarassed to face his team mates. Raheem Sterling is a good lad who just wants to play football. Delete as applicable. No, don’t. They’re all true.
Let’s pull back the lens from the narrow focus on outrage and self righteousness and take in the wider perspective. Let’s retreat from cod psychology and attempts to mind read Raheem and his agent Aidy Ward. Let’s park positions of pride and vanity and step back from melodrama. Let’s look at the real world. The real world of elite football business and its motives and targets.
Team Sterling — they want the 20-year-old man boy Raheem to have a long and fruitful career that will enrich him corporally and pastorally but primarily they want to increase his lifetime wealth and that of those who he has commissioned to act for him. Team Sterling also have a reputation to protect and ehance. They want more Raheem Sterlings. They want to be able to pitch to new clients confident that they can demonstrate a track record of acting entirely in the interests of the individuals. They need to find common ground with employers too. The incumbant ones and the future ones. It’s all about the relationships.
Team Sterling appear, on the surface, to have somewhat forgotten the latter. They’ve overtly used the media to attempt to force the hand of Liverpool FC. The media have played ball and have reached the desired conclusion — that the player no longer wants to play for the club. Yet, Aidy Ward concedes that his lad won’t be leaving Liverpool FC this summer. Of that much he, like the club itself, is certain. So why the rocking of the boat? Why apparently try to make the player’s position feel all but untenable? Are Team Sterling this dumb? Making it up and regretting it as they go?
The truth will be that Team Sterling have known since the very start of these negotiations with Liverpool that 1) it was in the young player’s best interests to continue his career at a good nurturing/first-team guaranteeing club like LFC for a further while, and that 2) Liverpool FC weren’t going to just accept the body blow — on a football and PR level — that letting the club’s brightest hope leave prematurely would represent. Team Sterling will have concurrently appreciated that the one whip hand they held over the employer was that the player was entering the last two years of his contract and that the club risked the loss of a potentially large transfer fee should he see that agreement out until its conclusion.
Sterling’s lads, perhaps irked by being ‘mugged’ into signing a £35k-a-week contract for their man less than two years ago, are now determined not to fall for the same spiel. The spiel that Brendan Rodgers oft repeats about how too much dough too soon can wreck the heads of young players and lead to them not fulfilling potential. Regardless of the merits of Brendan’s view, it’s a clever tactic. It implies a significant threat that a young player’s representatives have to take seriously. The subtext is, play it our way or the emerging money machine — that is your player — will not get our full commitment and your future earnings will dwindle. The club that develops the player will imply that severed from the mentor the player’s powers will diminish like Samson’s after a bad haircut.
That was the dance two years ago. Now things are different. Raheem has moved into a new phase of his development and Team Sterling know it. Liverpool FC would probably have liked to park Sterling on a new five-year contract for £80k a week that allows for bonuses that will see him break the £100k-a-week barrier, with an £80-100m release clause tagged on for good measure.
Sterling’s lads want to have cakes and to eat them whenever they choose. They want the inflationary hyper rate of £150k-plus a week that clubs would routinely pay for precious talent, but they also want to be able to ditch the deal and bail out for a richer one within a couple of years, should opportunity knock. Team Sterling have watched how the Suarez affair played out with keen interest.
Player agitates for move. Club stand firm knowing there are still two years left before they can lose all. Player sulks. Club defiant. Player bows head, rehabilitates and quietly goes about the business of enhancing his playing reputation. Six months pass. Peace has broken out. Player’s people return to the negotiating table, replete with humility and respect for the club. They know that the club’s hand is now weaker with that contract expiry clock ticking down. Name your fair price for the player’s worth they say to the club. He’s buckled down. He’s improved. He’s worth more than he was when the impasse began a year ago.
So the club are twitchier. The player has become more invaluable. His transfer worth greater, his contribution to the team increasingly pivotal. He’s gone for nothing in 18 months. Desperate, the club agree to ‘compromise’ at £150k a week. For five years. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The £50m-plus transfer fee the club could lose is protected. The player’s team know that if the player breaks both his legs a mighty wedge is still guaranteed. The fans start to believe that they aren’t going to be supporting a ‘selling club’ in perpetuity.
Six months further on, one of two alternative statuses are apparent. Either player has outgrown the club or the club has outgrown, or at least matched, the player. In the latter scenario, other stars have emerged in a team that is now challenging at the top and has an elite European profile. The player may have plateaued and be thanking his lucky stars for his assured £150k a week for five years.
The other, and worryingly more likelier position, is that club are again just falling short. The young player has emerged as their beacon and brightest light, but he alone cannot take them to the highest prestige and earnings plane. The smart representatives planned for this. They worked all along for this moment, when they insisted — way back when — that a release clause be inserted in that shiny compromise contract. The escape hatch. The level was key. Pitched perfectly at the value the employer club had feared they could lose if the contract were to be run down. No more. No less.
This is how it will play out with Raheem Sterling. The next moves are not about either facilitating a move for the player now, or securing a long-term future at Anfield either. The play that will be acted out selectively in public will reveal a finale aimed at one thing — securing Sterling a smooth exit from Liverpool within 12 months and the assurance of riches and trophy opportunities that the current incarnation of Liverpool Football Club seem to have insufficient appetite to match.
We haven’t seen the last of Raheem Sterling on our fields at Anfield Road, but the smart money is that we will have done by this time next year.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo