You could forgive Brendan Rodgers if the Liverpool boss is wondering just how such a situation has arisen for a second time in less than two years: an unauthorised interview given by a star player discussing his future.
Summer 2013 saw the headlines dominated by Luis Suarez, and spring 2015 have seen similar—although not quite the same (yet)—withRaheem Sterling.
This week’s unauthorised interview with BBC Sport has dominated the headlines and was inevitably the centre of attention in Rodgers’ pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s crucial trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal.
In the interview, Sterling admitted to being “flattered” by the London side’s reported interest—comments which will not endear him to Liverpool supporters, especially coming days before such an important game for the club.
Indeed, it’s not just this one game but the next two matches which could decide Liverpool’s season. Fail to win against Arsenal and at Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup quarter-final replay four days later, and it’s effectively “season over” for Rodgers’ side.
he timing of Sterling’s misjudged attempts to put the saga to rest couldn’t have been worse.
Organised by Sterling’s advisors, it’s another example of how the 20-year-old is being mishandled, as pointed out by former Liverpool player Jason McAteer in an interview with talkSPORT this week (h/t This Is Anfield).
“I just think he’s being misguided somewhere along the line,” saidMcAteer, even before this interview with BBC—something with which supporters will now increasingly agree.
Tom Adams writes for Eurosport on the interview, saying how it was intended to win fans over but will likely have the reverse effect:
Sterling’s interview with the BBC is a wholly transparent piece of media manipulation designed to win fans over and present Sterling as a grounded individual who values trophies over money, but it’s likely to have the opposite effect, casting him as a figure who believes himself to be above the club and willing to embark on his own PR offensive without the permission of his employers.
It’s difficult to see how Sterling ever thought he would come out of this interview looking any better. Effectively “going rogue” and attempting to claim it’s not about the money? It’s a bit naive to think that would win over football fans when turning down a reported £100,000 per week.
“He didn’t have permission by the club, it was something that surprised us all to be honest,” Rodgers told reporters on Thursday.
“He will learn as time goes on, like we all do, you make mistakes in life—especially when you are young.”
The interview is certainly a mistake from Sterling. But there are others who have made mistakes too.
Not least, Liverpool’s hierarchy.
Surely, owner John W. Henry must be asking how the football club have found themselves in such a similar situation to the Suarez saga less than two years ago. How come another key player is, seemingly, wanting/looking to leave in search of success elsewhere?
How come, once again, we’re discussing Liverpool’s failures to reward their key players with contracts that the player feels they deserve?
Sterling is currently on a reported £35,000 per week according to ChrisBascombe of The Telegraph—making him one of the club’s lowest earners. Yet he’s the opposite of that in terms of squad status. There are squad players earning more than him.
It’s quite clear that Sterling was already playing a more important role than those who earn far more than him last summer, and that importance has only strengthened as this season has progressed. Rodgers turned to the 20-year-old in mid-December to fix the Reds’ forward problems.
He is ahead of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini in the pecking order up front yet earns less than all three.
Sterling says he’d have signed a new deal had the club offered one last summer. Sound familiar? It should, because Steven Gerrard said as much when he announced he was leaving the club in January. If thatdidn‘t get the alarm bells ringing around Anfield’s hierarchy, it should now.
And all this is without mentioning the Jordan Henderson contract situation—the captain-in-waiting has less than two years remaining on his current deal. There’s more potential trouble ahead.
he normal situation for first-team players in the Premier League is that they are offered new deals before they enter their final two years. But Liverpool are playing with fire by leaving it later.
Alas, for now, the club must somehow find a way to avoid the saga dominating the final weeks of the season. It must not become a distraction for player and club—at least the Suarez saga was played out over the summer.
It’s a crucial week for the Reds, and Rodgers must somehow find a way to set aside the Sterling situation until the summer for Liverpool Football Club’s sake; that’s what is most important here.