I WAS as glad as everyone else to see the back of Raheem Sterling last summer, writes CHARLIE CHRISTIAN.
After months of distracted performances, shameless attention-seeking and general poor conduct all round, it was time for the club and Sterling to part ways and at close to £50million it can hardly be claimed that Liverpool got a bad deal out of it, especially on the evidence of some of Sterling’s performances for Manchester City this season.
However, there was still much about that saga that we should find troubling.
For the second summer running we lost one of our best players to an established Champions League side and although Sterling never was and never will be another Luis Suarez, his status as one of the most promising young players in Europe is entirely justified. Given the straight choice between a big bag of cash and the European Golden Boy of less than two full years ago, we should be taking the latter every time.
It can’t be denied that letting Sterling go was the right decision, if only because he so blatantly didn’t want to be here and his continued presence at the club would only have served to act as a disruption.
But something I found concerning about that particular saga was the way some within the fanbase seemed positively celebratory about the amount of cash we ended up receiving from City for his services.
Of course nobody wants to see the club get ripped off as according to some we might have been over Suarez (£65m? Really?) but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get excited about transfer fees. Nor will I ever. You don’t sing about how much cash you’ve got in the bank, you can’t emblazon a ‘historic’ transfer fee alongside a Liverbird on a banner. It just isn’t us.
Now, for the third summer running, it seems possible that we could lose one of our best players for a head-turning sum. With Paris Saint-Germain reportedly interested in Daniel Sturridge, and an alleged fee of £45m bouncing around on the back pages of various papers, the debate is once again underway about whether or not we should cash in on one of our prized assets. And many seem to be in favour.
Given our recent history in the transfer market, shouldn’t we be immensely sceptical of allowing top talent to leave the club without a fight?
Getting £50m for Sterling has hardly inspired us to greater things this season and we all know what our first post-Suarez campaign looked like. Nor can we credibly claim to have benefitted, either short-term or long-term, from the sale of Javier Mascherano. Or Xabi Alonso. Or even Fernando Torres.
There’s a clear pattern here — selling our best players does nothing to improve us as a team. Why would it?
Our most memorable season in recent years came after a summer when we stubbornly dug our heels in when it came to keeping our most talented player of the time.
Rather than cashing in on the only world-class player we had available to us, we kept hold of Luis Suarez and refused to let him go, least of all to one of our Premier League rivals. The results of our hard-headedness were spectacular as we all know, with Suarez’s 31 league goals the following season taking us the closest we’ve been to the title in my lifetime.
Bill Shankly talked about there being a holy trinity of fans, players and the manager and while football has obviously become infinitely more business oriented in recent decades (we do have an “official donuts partner” after all) isn’t this club still largely about incredible players doing incredible things and us getting behind them accordingly?
And let there be no doubt, when Daniel Sturridge’s body is working he very much exists within that bracket of elite players, arguably behind only Sergio Aguero in the English game.
His Liverpool record of 47 goals in 81 games speaks for itself and even with his injury record this season he’s our third highest overall scorer. Yes, that has as much to do with the utter mediocrity we’ve been subjected to for much of this campaign as it does with Daniel Sturridge’s brilliance as a goalscorer, but his record of four goals in seven league games reminds us of just how lethal he can be.
Players with that sort of conversion rate — which Sturridge has largely maintained throughout his Liverpool career — are not to be let go of lightly. £45m? That’s just under three Mario Balotellis. It’s even less than what we got for Sterling. If we’re getting excited over that sort of cash for a player of such quality, we need to be asking what our priorities really are.
Of course Sturridge’s injury record is a big concern for the club, that much can’t be denied. Every time we’re told he’s close to making a return, another problem seems to surface. Each time he manages to start piecing together another first team run, he’ll get another dead leg, another pulled hamstring.
It’s infuriating to so often be without the most dangerous player we’ve got on our books and if Jürgen Klopp decides he’s too much of a liability to keep hold of then, yes, we should let him go. But only if the manager decides he’s too much of a liability. Not because we can make a profit on him. Not because we could sign two or three half-decent players with whatever we make from his sale.
It has to be a decision based on footballing reasons and footballing reasons alone because, if it’s not, how can we credibly claim to be doing our best to advance as a team? Drawing out a transfer saga to make the most profit possible might make good television and satisfy those of us who think in terms of net spend and ‘Moneyball’ but does anyone believe it’s conducive to a settled, focused squad?
This summer represents a huge opportunity to set the club up in a position to reclaim a Champions League place, pick up some form of silverware and show that we can consistently reach some of the heights we’ve glimpsed throughout Jürgen’s reign so far.
We’ve got one of the best managers in Europe and he should be allowed to realise his vision for the club regardless of whether or not it chimes in with receiving the maximum amount of cash available to us.
If that vision includes Daniel Sturridge, we keep Daniel Sturridge. If it doesn’t then we wave goodbye and move on. Those are the only factors we should be taking into consideration when it comes to Sturridge’s future at Anfield.
Anything else is immaterial.