After Arsenal bludgeoned Liverpool, 4-1, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in North London, Brendan Rodgers courageously stood before a post-match microphone to face the requisite questions managers have to answer after being ravaged by a rival. One of the questions he had to know was coming (and was likely dreading) was about the future of Liverpool speedster Raheem Sterling
Earlier in the week, Sterling sat down for an interview with the BBC, admitting he turned down a £100,000-a-week deal to re-up with Liverpool. The timing wasn’t ideal, considering a huge match with Arsenal was only a few days away.
Speaking on the situation after Saturday’s game, Rodgers didn’t really hold back:
“In the modern game it’s something that would frustrate us all. It’s the market. In fairness to Raheem, I brought Raheem in from the youth team so I know the kid well and I know a big part of this is nothing to do with him. Kid who is focused on his football, works hard every single day, he just wants to play his football. The kid gives me everything every time he trains and plays. Loyalty is not something so prevalent in the modern game.”
And there it was: the “L” word. Loyalty. It caught me a bit by surprise because, of all people, Rodgers should know quite well that the notion of loyalty in European soccer isn’t just stupid, it’s unrealistic.
Fans routinely harp on and on about player loyalty, conveniently forgetting how quickly they’re ready to ship players and managers out after a string of poor performances. It’s as if fans refuse to acknowledge basic realities. The primary goals of professional soccer players are to manage their livelihoods, look after their financial futures and explore professionally satisfying opportunities; not to satisfy fans’ base impulses for undying, unyielding love, for better or worse, richer or poorer, until death do they part .
But it’s at least somewhat understandable when fans become mired in their own delusions, because it’s easy to forget that players aren’t just fans like them. It’s easy to forget that the people running around on the field are actually working, and that people who work rightfully have every right to seek out more fruitful opportunities, however they choose to define “fruitful.”
It’s hard, however, to give managers the same amount of leeway as fans. Managers evoking the notion of loyalty when it comes to players is particularly comical because they’re often seeking the exact same type of financial and professional rewards as the players they manage. Managers don’t live a fan life. And to pretend they aren’t driven by very similar motivations as players is wildly disingenuous.
Brendan Rodgers is well aware of this.
Rodgers, as he probably remembers, was the Swansea City manager during the 2011-2012 Premier League season. He was a high-flying hot commodity back then, mired in heaps of transfer rumors. But it was a relatively new sensation, despite his glistening pedigree, considering he had only lasted six months at Reading, his previous job, before he and the club decided to part ways.
But when Rodgers was given a chance to redeem himself at Swansea, he did. And then some. Swansea won promotion from the Championship to the Premier League. Once the club was out kicking ball with the big boys, it didn’t just make up the numbers. Under Rodgers’ tutelage, Swansea finished firmly mid-table, despite many thinking the Welsh club would be playing in the Championship once again the following season.
Rodgers was happy. He later said he was planning on staying for years. But at the end of his first Premier League season, he was nowhere to be found in Wales. Liverpool called, and he promptly answered.
Here’s what the now-current Liverpool manager said upon departing Swansea:
“For me, the only way I was going to leave Swansea was for a big club, and I mean a big club.
“It was an extremely, extremely difficult decision because my plan was always to stay here at Swansea for a number of years.
“I have always been up front and honest. I have always said that I wouldn’t be here forever and that one day I would go, but I honestly never thought the opportunity would come round now.
“In my life and in my football, I have been very happy in Swansea.
“But when an opportunity to work at a club which is more than a club comes round, it’s a professional challenge which is too good to turn down.”
”That professional challenge is what my journey in coaching has been all about.
“In any journey, whether you are a journalist or a football manager, you want to be the very, very best that you can.
“My journey has taken me to an area and to a people that will be in my heart for the rest of my life, so the decision to leave that behind was not easy.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to come around so quickly but, when it comes, you have a choice to make.
“The footballing choice is to go to a club that everyone knows about — it doesn’t need explaining.”
So there you go. That’s Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on loyalty.
Now, as manager of Liverpool, there’s no rule that requires Rodgers to extend the same courtesy – the one where one doesn’t have to be driven by loyalty. If he decides that playing the loyalty card might enable him to keep Sterling, then more power to him. But then he should also be content with proudly wearing a name tag that says “hypocrite,” because as he well knows, the idea of loyalty in a game surrounded by better dollars, bigger clubs and professional drive is nonsense. It’s an anomaly. Even when you think you’ve found it, you become Frank Lampard, or maybe even Steven Gerrard, and get leisurely ushered out the door.
There are plenty of reasons for Rodgers to be annoyed with Sterling’s BBC interview – the timing and the content, most obviously. But loyalty is definitely not one of them. Rodgers knows that more than most.