Liverpool Must Set Aside Raheem Sterling Contract Saga Until End of Season

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2015

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, left, is subtistuted by manager Brendan Rodgers, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Liverpool at King Power Stadium, in Leicester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

You could forgive Brendan Rodgers if the Liverpool boss was wondering just how such a situation has arisen for a second time in less than two years—his star player giving an unauthorised interview to discuss his future.

Summer 2013 saw the headlines dominated by Luis Suarez, and spring 2015 has seen a similar occurrence with Raheem Sterling.

Wednesday'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 the campaign is effectively over for Rodgers' side.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Raheem Sterling of Liverpool warms up prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on February 22, 2015 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard He
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The timing of Sterling's misjudged attempts to put the saga to rest couldn't have been worse.

Organised by Sterling's advisers, it's another example of how the 20-year-old is being misguided, 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," said McAteer, even before this interview with BBC—something that supporters will now be increasingly agreeing with.

Tom Adams writes for Eurosport on the interview, saying how it was intended to win fans over but will likely have the opposite 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.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 26:  Brendan Rodgers manager of Liverpool shakes hands with Raheem Sterling of Liverpool after defeat in a penalty shoot out during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between Besiktas JK and Liverpool FC on Feb
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

"He didn’t have permission by the club, it was something that surprised us all to be honest," said Rodgers in Thursday's pre-Arsenal press conference.

"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 (per Chris Bascombe 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. His wages don't match his status.

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 he 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 that didn't get the alarm bells ringing around Anfield's hierarchy, it should now.

All this and without mentioning the Jordan Henderson contract situation—the captain in waiting has less than two years remaining on his current deal. Another one that potentially has trouble ahead.

The 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—and that's what is most important here.


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