Every team has been in the position Liverpool Football Club find themselves in currently.
Held ransom by one of their top players who has a silver-tongued demon as an agent. A contract offer on the table which is more than ample in the terms it offers – and yet, the aforementioned player has cards in his hand. These cards afford him the power to decide not only the terms of the negotiations, but even when parley takes place.
Arsenal are more than familiar with that snug spot between a rock and a hard place. Robin Van Persie still tops the ‘Most Wanted List’ amongst Gooners. Southampton could only bid their star performers a teary ‘adieu’ as they set off for the ferry. Hell, even Manchester United at the peak of their powers could only watch as fiery teenager Paul Pogba decided he wanted to swan off to Turin.
Raheem Sterling though, is in a slightly different position. He certainly has the cards in his hand. He made 39 appearances in Liverpool’s best ever Premier League season in 2013/14, bagging 11 goals and 12 assists. Strangely though, it wasn’t his end product which garnered envious glances and international recognition. It was the way he slalomed past dizzied opponents that really made people sit up and take notice.
He has all the talent necessary to etch his own name into the memories of all England fans. The only thing that can stop him is sloppy coaching and himself. It has been seen before with daring starlets where the ballsy moves they pull to gain half a yard are replaced with more stately and safe manoeuvrings that eliminate the risk but also the quickening of fans heart rates. It is oh so important that the one thing that makes him dangerous is not eked out in favour of making him a stereotypically English winger.
The other obstacle to creating a legacy he can look back on in fondness is himself. Whether the media’s taint has coloured our viewpoint is unclear, but the negotiations which have ground to a halt carry more than a whiff of greed and self-entitlement. No one can claim to know the truth regarding the figures that have been laid on the table. Brendan Rodgers – who with every question regarding his young charge is becoming more and more desperate – maintains that the offer is more than enough for such a young lad who has achieved little thus far. I’m erring toward agreeing with him.
Sterling is in no such position to hold the club to ransom. The kid has undoubted talent but he achieved his breakout season in a team aided by an almost mercurial Luis Suarez who with regular abandon laid chances on a plate for the crazily coiffured youngster. This season, his stats are good, but minus Suarez and the surprise factor, they lack the WOW factor of last season. Factor in ‘TiredGate‘ and questions over the young man’s stamina and you are left with questions regarding the validity of offering Sterling a contract that will no doubt leave teammates with questions.
Sterling though, must look out for his career. Though only 20yrs old at the time of writing, he can look at other players of his age bracket who are carving out their own niche on the European and global stage and wonder why he cannot do the same. He must decide if Liverpool can offer him the stage his talent deserves. Can Rodgers maintain a European presence season after season, a la Wenger and Arsenal? If not, then there are many clubs who can, with the aforementioned London club being one of them.
In regards to Sterling joining Arsenal, a part of the rumour surrounding this surmised move involves another player who is more than familiar with contract negotiations – Theo Walcott. The speed merchant had fans begging him to ‘Sign Da Ting’ on social networks and at matches as he delayed talks until reassurances were given on a future striking role. At the time of the meetings, Theo had been showing the club exactly what they could be missing. His agent timed talks to perfection. Sterling must have representation of similar ilk.
What irks most fans is the power the players have. Not only do they earn a weekly wage that would make an investment banker blush, but they also have the audacity to renegotiate terms to their fancy. If they want more cash, well, the club must listen. If they want to start the majority of games, then the manager must bend to their will. This means a player can insert their wants into all aspects of the club, including areas where a player has no right to exert any influence. It is a Manager’s job to pick the team and a player out of form or even in a purple patch has no right to demand a starting slot.
So does the club take a hardline approach? If the player doesn’t sign then a spell on the bench beckons? Doesn’t that ruin any chance that a talent will re-sign? If the object of fans affections feels that they are hard done by, won’t that burn the very bridges the club rely on to lure the player to stay?
What about pandering to the players wishes? Do everything they can to make them extend their stay?
The problem that undermines any talks with a player is the dawning realisation that the contract which a player daubs his lucrative signature is worth roughly the same as the paper of which it is on.
Sterling’s former inspiration and current incumbent of the title ‘ Mr Bitey ‘ – Luis Suarez – showcased this perfectly when signing a contract extension with Liverpool just six months before leaving the shores of the Mersey for the Catalan capital. It shows that it has been reduced to a bargaining tool for eking more currency out of a lurking predator.
It is a sad state of affairs but it is indicative of the course on which Premier League football is headed. Mercenaries acting as a gun-for-hire, switching jerseys as easy as they switch their sponsored football boots, with a footballing past littered with club names. The ‘one-club man’ that is so vaunted by fans – and rightly so – will be but a ghost. Tony Adams, John Terry etc, players who are idolised by their respective fans. Tomas Rosicky is lauded by Gooners mainly because he stayed when others jumped ship. Loyalty is sought after but rarely found.
We should treasure it wherever we can find it.