How long ago it all seems now. Along with Luis Suárez and Daniel Sterling, Raheem Sterling, then only 19 years old, was vaunted as one of the attacking trident of “S’s” as Liverpool came so close to ending its long title drought. Young, fast and English, Sterling seemed to epitomize the impact manager Brendan Rodgers could have on youthful, technical players, even ones with lifestyle choices and attitudes that could be called into question.
Fast forward 12 months and the English Premier League has ended with a player who is out of form, booed by his own fans and taking unauthorized media interviews amid accusations of being greedy. His representation will seemingly do whatever it takes to get their client away from the club.
It appears that Liverpool’s official stance remains that, despite negotiations over a new deal lurking during the last half of the season, there will now be no further contract talks. The player will be expected to fulfill his remaining two years. But I’d still sell him this summer, and I’m sure for the right price, the club will do the same. Even to Manchester United if they offer ridiculous money.
However, those fans expressing rage at Sterling and his agent should think a little more deeply, because the fall from grace speaks ominously about the direction Liverpool is heading. Players want to play with the best players, in the best competitions, for the best managers and make as much money as possible. As of right now, of those four things, only the money is potentially available from Liverpool. And there’s probably a lot more on offer from other clubs.
From Sterling (and his agent’s) perspective, his stock has never been higher. He’s shown what he can do playing with world-class players. He is unsullied by failures of his own making or failing to live up the hype (he was even younger at the World Cup, and this season can hardly be blamed on a 20-year-old). He has two years left on his contract when the potential of his ability is still to be fully tapped. Now is the time for his club to maximize the cashing in value.
And for Sterling, now is the time to push for that move to Bayern, United, Chelsea, Madrid – swap in the club from your rumor of choice. Another season playing like he has over the last six months and Sterling’s chance to make a big move will drift away.
Does his desire to move reflect badly on Liverpool’s current status in the game? No doubt. Does it reflect how far away the club is from the current elite? Definitely. Is Sterling worth fighting for when Luis Suárez was let go with barely a whimper? Not a chance.
Better players have left Liverpool and will again in the future. The real questions to be asked are whether Liverpool, on an infrastructure level — from player scouting, recruitment and team management — is best equipped to reinvest the money it’d get in return, combined with whatever Fenway Sports Group will throw into the pot.
It may sting fans’ pride that, for a second successive season, a star player wants to leave. Contrast it with the emotion and timing of Steven Gerrard’s departure and it should hurt. But what hurts me more is that there’s only so many times a club can come back from such tough times before the decline becomes permanent.
There isn’t a summer that goes by without Liverpool facing some kind of major trauma. With the season ending limply and a review in Boston to come, the next few weeks will be no different. The outcome is will determine the long-term future of the club.