Raheem Sterling – two words, the very sight of which will make most of the UK’s football-devouring population sigh. The prolonged and increasingly tense contract talks between the 20 year-old England international and his club Liverpool have dominated the back pages of the British papers for a while now. It really kicked into overdrive this week, however, with Sterling admitting in the press that he had turned down a £100,000-a-week deal with the Anfield club.
Despite his claims that he doesn’t want to be perceived as a ‘money-grabbing 20 year old’, the debacle has led many to come to this conclusion. Both sides have, of course, tried to spin the situation, saying it was anything but money that was the sticking point. With Liverpool having stuck by Sterling during some controversial personal issues and honed him into the Premier League regular he is now, they may be right to feel he owes them something. Sterling, however, insists money is not the issue and that his football development may be better served elsewhere. A number of behind-the-scenes issues are said to have arisen due to manager Brendan Rodger’s constant shifting of Sterling’s position, with the Jamaica-born player preferring to play up front.
Take this latest friction-filled situation in the context of wider recent events for Liverpool, however, and you begin to see a pattern emerging that may have those in the Kop wondering if they will ever reclaim their place at the top of the English game. In the last few years alone, the history of the Reds is littered with on-the-field controversies and off-the-field bust ups, the like of which are a bit of an embarrassment for a club once known to carry itself with an element of class.
As far as on-the-field controversies go, we don’t need to look past the Suarez racism row involving Patrice Evra. While the details of the incident have been reviewed ad-nauseum, it was the behaviour after the incident that shocked some on-lookers. Manager Kenny Dalglish initially refused to chastise Suarez and subsequently aggressively defended the player after he refused to shake Evra’s hand in the following match between the Merseyside club and fierce rivals Manchester United. Then-owner John Henry forced both Dalglish and Suarez to apologise in the aftermath, stating that ‘no-one is bigger than Liverpool’ and making it clear he found the pair’s behaviour unacceptable.
Looking at off-the field issues, Sterling is only the latest high-profile player at Liverpool to run into problems when discussing contract extensions. We’re all acutely aware that Steven Gerrard’s impending exit was brought about by a mixture of an unsatisfactory deal and a lack of guarantees with regard to first team football. Then there’s the exit of fan favourite and goalkeeper Pepe Reina. He stated in an open letter to fans in July 2013 that the club had accepted a loan offer from Italian side Napoli without his knowledge, saying it was ‘not his decision’. Some have said these two situations were more to do with manager Rodgers than Liverpool as a club and, certainly, Reina’s feelings appeared clear when he stated he was looking forward to working with Rafa Benitez at Napoli, whom he described as ‘the best manager’.
So, as examples, all the above situations seem to involve big characters on every side, men who may have caused controversy at any club. But this isn’t any club – it’s Liverpool. This is a club who should be bigger than any of these individuals, who should handle such situations with a touch more class and decorum. Such issues arising with such regularity have only served to suggest that the club is easily pushed around and forced to bow to the wants and needs of a few questionable characters. Gone are the days where the honour of playing for or representing a club with the stature of Liverpool mean anything. Instead, we find ourselves in an age where money, personal morals (or lack there-of) and more than a hint of selfishness govern. To be quite frank, it’s sad and does leave you wondering – are values such as loyally, honour and professional pride dead in today’s game? You only need to look at Liverpool to suggest that may indeed be the case.