A ‘money-grabbing 20 year-old’ is exactly how Raheem Sterling doesn’t want to be seen and a ‘money-grabbing 20 year-old’ is exactly how Raheem Sterling is currently perceived to be.
It’s a big summer for the youngster and a big summer for the clubs around him. After a disappointing season, Sterling is being thrown ceaselessly around the rumour mill. Manchester City are serious bidders it seems, offering Liverpool £40m and may have to raise it to £50m to obtain the England winger’s services.
It’s a big summer for both of those clubs, too. Liverpool need to have a team that will hit the ground running next season. They’re opening fixtures are almost unfairly tough and without Champions League football, they can’t bring in the quality they might require for an assault on the title or even 4th place. They’re a young team and if the pressure of defeats and media speculation gets to them early they might crumble. Manager Brendan Rodgers could pay the price for that.
City are in something of a similar position. They need a good start too, because of disappointment last year. It’s for the feel-good factor around the club, but also because losing a few games could put pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini. Add that to the fact City are trying to buy only homegrown talent and they will need to answer some sceptics early on if they’re to keep the press and the boo boys off their backs.
And then there’s Sterling. An epic tug-of-war between Manchester and Liverpool for the services of a Londoner. And we can’t forget that Sterling is a Londoner, with no links to Liverpool other than the fact that he now plays there. Surely we can’t make him play the loyalty card at a club where he’s spent only three years.
Why can’t we all calm down about Raheem Sterling? The ‘this is what has become of our modern game’ line is wearing dangerously thin – Sterling has told us that he’s not turning down £100k per week because it’s too low, but because he wants to win trophies. Whether you believe him or not is up to you, but before you call him a liar, look at why he’s saying it.
Sterling is now part of Liverpool’s history, he played in the team that so nearly won its first Premier League title, he gained his first England caps playing for the Reds. In 20 years, once his career is done and dusted there’ll still be that link to Liverpool, and perhaps a multitude of Liverpool fans will never forgive him. He certainly won’t feel the love Steven Gerrard felt as he left Anfield.
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But then Gerrard is Liverpool through and through – he’s the ghost of Christmas future for Sterling.
Gerrard’s career has been a stellar one, he’s won two FA Cups, three League Cups, a UEFA Cup and lifted the Champions League trophy in Istanbul. He’s been one of the best players of the Premier League era and he’s captained his country at a World Cup.
If that’s what you have to look forward to, it’s not awful. Except the great thing about being 20 is that you don’t have to be anything. Sterling looks at the club he’s playing for and wonders when the trophies will arrive. And when they do, will he win what Gerrard did, or will he win more?
Why shouldn’t Sterling have a different English role model? Frank Lampard: three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Europa League and a Champions League. Paul Scholes: 11 (eleven) Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, two Champions Leagues. Equally you could say John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ryan Giggs (not English of course, but you get the point) – all of those players have won so much more than Gerrard and it’s not because they were better players. It’s because they played for teams that won things.
And that wasn’t Gerrard’s mission in football. His mission was to captain his boyhood team, and he did that. He captained his country. But the trophy haul just isn’t what it could have been. It isn’t what a player as gifted as Gerrard deserved.
And that spooks Sterling.
What if, in 15 or 20 years of giving his all at Liverpool, without a Premier League winners medal to show for it, Raheem gets an emotional send-off from the Kop? Will those FA Cups and century of England caps be enough? Or will the young Jamaican-born England international think that’s disappointing? Fans of other clubs gleefully mock Gerrard’s slip, his trophy haul and the fact that his final few games at Liverpool were an unmitigated disaster. Is that what Sterling wants?
Any marriage has hopes and dreams for the future, any relationship needs to be entered into with both partners looking to strive for the same life goals – or at least to help the other person along the way to theirs. What does he see when he sees his future with Liverpool? No Champions League, probably no chance of winning the Premier League next season, manager’s job uncertain?
Sterling has a choice to make, and Liverpool fans might not like it, but that’s the direction the club has taken over the last 20 years. It’s still one of the biggest clubs in England and indeed in Europe, but until it can deliver the trophies that a club like that should then players are always going to be attracted by the bright lights elsewhere.
You can’t expect loyalty from a youngster who just wants to win trophies, and you certainly can’t expect it from someone who’s only been at your club for three years. If Liverpool want to keep him they should get started on building a team that’s going to challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League year after year.
Until then, the ghost of Gerrard will haunt the new batches of young players walking through the door.