A Done Deal
It looks like it’s all over. The most protracted, vicious and ludicrous transfer saga that Liverpool FC have had to endure since Suarez wanted to go to Arsenal 2 years ago appears to be coming to a close.
In case you’ve been on holiday, live under a rock or are…well…dead, allow us to recap.
Raheem Sterling would have signed a contract with Liverpool if he’d been offered one at the end of the 2013-2014 season, but he wasn’t. The club decided that, with 2 years left on his contract, there wasn’t any rush on sorting out the youngster’s future.
Then Luis Suarez left Liverpool, he wasn’t replaced successfully and the season that followed was an over-whelming disappointment. Sterling had his head turned by the possibility of a move elsewhere and his agent, Aidy Ward, began to realise there could be a big pay off for himself and his client if they began the leaving of Liverpool.
The Reds realised there were some issues on the horizon and so they initiated talks with the winger, reportedly offering him close to £100,000 per week to sign a new deal. Sterling and Ward said no, asking for talks to be delayed until the end of the season.
When the end of the season came, Ward and his client still weren’t interested in signing a new contract with Liverpool. Ward was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying, “Raheem won’t sign for £700,000, £800,000, £900,000 a week. He’s not signing”. On the back of the quotes Liverpool decided to cancel the talks and a stalemate ensued.
This coming not long after Sterling gave a somewhat unconvincing interview to the BBC in which he claimed his motivation for wanting to leave Liverpool was nothing to do with money, and was all about his ambition. It was an interview that Liverpool knew nothing about and had not sanctioned.
Then, as pre-season began, Sterling went to Melwood for training with the sole notion of telling Brendan Rodgers he didn’t want to play for the club any more and that he didn’t want to be taken on the pre-season tour of Australia and the Far East. Rodgers refused his request, telling him he was expected to go on the tour.
The following day Sterling phoned in sick for training, failing to appear with the rest of the Liverpool squad. The day after he failed to turn up again, this time not even bothering to call in, apparently.
Then on Saturday gone he reappeared and was told in no uncertain terms that he was expected to go on the Liverpool tour. Failure to get on the plane would be considered to be a serious breach of his contract and could have resulted in a major financial punishment for the Jamaican born England international.
In amongst all of this his agent, Aidy Ward, claimed that the reason Sterling wanted to leave was that his relationship with Brendan Rodgers had completely broken down. It was the 3rd or 4th different reason given for Sterling’s desired departure since the whole thing had reared its ugly head.
According to media reports he did turn up on Sunday with his bags packed, ready to head off to Bangkok for the first part of the tour. However he was saved by the fact that Manchester City decided to enter negotiations with Liverpool over the forward’s signing, meaning the club made the decision to leave Sterling at home until the deal had been concluded.
Sunday night saw details leaked to the press of the deal that had been reached between Manchester City and Liverpool. The Sky Blues are prepared to pay Liverpool £44 million up front for the youngster with a further £5 million heading to Anfield depending on Sterling’s appearances and achievements with his new club.
There’s little question that Aidy Ward will be feeling extremely smug today. Despite the actions of him and his client over the past few weeks, he’ll doubtless believe that the ends justify the means – and he’s got the ending that he wanted. Yet his self-satisfaction should probably be tempered.
Reports emerging from Manchester suggest that the hierarchy at City have been less than impressed with his behaviour throughout the whole affair. He may have got Sterling the deal that the youngster wanted, but he’s also gained himself a reputation as being an appalling person to deal with as an agent.
On top of that, he’s also lost his only other major client. Saido Berahino, the 21 year old West Bromwich Albion striker, left Ward’s stewardship earlier this month. Berahino had, like Sterling, chosen to go with Ward when the controversial agent left Impact Sports Management and chose to go on his own last year.
But the West Brom striker became disillusioned with Ward’s behaviour during his dispute with Liverpool and felt that his best interests were not going to be looked after by someone who was so willing to publicly criticise anyone and everyone. It’s believed that Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, met with Berahino and urged him to ditch Ward moving forward; advice that the striker has taken on board before his contract talks with West Brom re-open.
Is the payoff he’s about to receive worth the reputation he’s gained himself? It is unlikely that, unless his new client is someone with the ability of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, any club is going to be overly keen to work with him in the future. Owners and managers now know that he will not be against slagging off the club or their previous players, to say nothing of the current regime, if he feels it will help his client get more money or a move away.
Players, meanwhile, might be pleased with the amount of money Ward has been able to get for Sterling, but will they want to risk their own reputations being left in tatters by following the advice Ward will give them to force through such a move?
Ward could well find that he struggles to get any more clients to join him, and that clubs don’t want to deal with him or the players he does get on board moving forward, feeling that it just isn’t worth the stress. He could have swapped his future for one big pay off.
Tapping Into Insecurities
Ward was very intelligent in the way he went about forcing the move from Liverpool for Sterling. Over the last few months, when it’s become clear that his client would be leaving the Merseyside club come hell or high water, Ward has engaged in a PR battle that tapped in to Liverpool fans’ worst fears.
Recently he suggested that Sterling had to leave Liverpool to achieve his ambitions. Despite the Reds taking the battle for the Premier League title to the last day of the 2013-2014 season, the club has only won 1 trophy in the last 9 years. That is simply not good enough for a club like Liverpool.
Ward knows that the fans fear mediocrity, so by bringing this into the conversation he’s attempted to turn the PR battle back on the club and get the fans to focus their ire on Liverpool’s seeming lack of ambition.
When that didn’t work quite how he wanted he decided to suggest that Sterling’s relationship with Brendan Rodgers had broken down completely. As anyone who knows anything about football will no doubt be aware, Rodgers’ position as manager seemed to border on the untenable at the tail end of last season, when Liverpool got knocked out of the FA Cup by Aston Villa, failed to make the top 4 and lost 6-1 away to Stoke in their final outing.
Again Ward hoped that, by suggesting that Sterling would have stayed at Liverpool if a different manager had been brought in, the Liverpool fans would turn on the club and desire the removal of Rodgers.
Once more his tactic didn’t pay off, with too much damage having already been done and with Liverpool fans disinclined to believe a word that him or his client had to say on the matter. In order to get his client free from the shackles of his contract with LFC Ward had tried to get the club and its fans to turn on each other.
The issue they had is that Rodgers has done everything in his power not only to protect Sterling, but also to further his development. That is to say nothing of the fact that Sterling had dinner at Rodgers’ house as recently as two months ago. Are Liverpool fans seriously expected to believe that the relationship has deteriorated that quickly?
A Sterling Reputation
If Ward’s reputation is not one to be proud of, what now for Raheem Sterling himself? Manchester City obviously aren’t too fussed about the damage all of this has done to the youngster, but that’s not to say he won’t find it difficult moving forward.
What the player has failed to realise is that, though it’s painful for anyone at the club to accept, Liverpool’s stock has fallen enough in recent years to mean that Sterling was a reasonably big fish in a slightly depleted Anfield pond. At Manchester City they don’t have the history or the trophy count of their Merseyside rivals, but they do have money, and money means success at all costs.
It could be argued that Sterling’s last 6 months at Liverpool were a major disappointment, with the forward under-performing in a team that failed to hit the heights of the season before. Yet Sterling kept his place, safe in the knowledge that even on a bad day he was still one of the club’s top performers.
If Sterling fails to hit the ground running at Manchester City or has an off day, he’ll likely find himself dropped to the bench with a player of exceeding ability brought in to replace him. He will have a fight on his hands to get back in to the City team, no longer afforded the luxury of being one of the squad’s more able players.
Sterling did gain a poor reputation when he was younger for living something of a party lifestyle with a rumour emerging on Twitter that he had 3 children by 3 different wives. It was a myth Sterling debunked, but it wasn’t helped by the fact that the Liverpool Press Officer didn’t actually know how many kids Sterling had when he was asked.
He was also made to look slightly foolish when he tweeted, “Happy birthday to my beautiful daughter who is 1 today”. Not a foolish tweet in itself, but it certainly made him a bit of a laughing stock when Melody Rose’s mother, Melissa, replied saying, “sorry to correct you but u don’t know ur own daughters birthday its next week! Shame on u”.
He seemed to clean up his act, however, spending his time designing the ultimate rich person’s house – complete with private barber’s salon – and finding God. Then earlier this year a video was released of Sterling inhaling nitrous oxide, otherwise known as Hippy Crack.
Nitrous oxide is completely legal, of course, but it’s still not a great thing to be filmed doing. Nor was it all that brilliant to be filmed doing it again when on holiday in Ibiza recently, or to have been filmed smoking a shisha pipe with friends.
So a reputation that a footballer shouldn’t be all that proud of before his contract negotiations fell apart, but one that has only got worse since. Despite his protestations and the reports in the press from people like John Cross – known to be a close friend of Aidy Ward – most people in the country feel that Sterling has been motivated by nothing other than money.In a country ravaged by austerity plans and cuts to virtually everything, a footballer kicking up a fuss in order to move his wage from £35,000 a week to £200,000 per week – significantly more than the vast majority of people earn in a year – was hardly likely to engender much sympathy. It’s been interesting to see that Sterling has been given stick from fans of clubs that would normally be somewhat anti-LFC, to say nothing of the abuse he faced when running out in an England jersey recently.
Is gaining a reputation as a difficult player to deal with, who will virtually go on strike to force through a money motivated move, really what Sterling wanted? He’s put himself in a situation where pretty much everyone in the country dislikes him and will be watching his every move – so he better hope he never puts a foot wrong.
Splitting The Fan Base
Liverpool fans seem to be split in opinion on virtually everything nowadays. Are FSG good owners or should they sell up? Is it best to redevelop Anfield or should a new stadium be built? Is stadium sponsorship ok if it brings money in or does it sell out the soul of the club? And, the big one, should Rodgers be sacked or given another season?
Even this Sterling situation seems to be something that has split the fan base. That said, some people just enjoy having a stick with which to beat the football club.
Liverpool FC are not a perfect organization far above criticism. They should be held to account when they get things wrong, no question. But in this particular scenario what more could the club have done?
Raheem Sterling may believe his own hype and feel that he is worth the £200,000 per week that Manchester City are reported to be willing to offer him, but he is far from the finished article just yet. He has limitless potential, but he hasn’t fulfilled that yet. Should Liverpool really have offered him more than £100,000 per week in order to keep him away from the claws of Sheik Mansour?
It also seems that Ward & Sterling were determined to get away from Liverpool this summer, citing numerous ever changing reasons for wanting to do so. Other than getting the best possible deal for themselves, what more could the club have done in this situation?
There also seems to be something of a desire from some fans to criticise other Liverpool supporters for being happy that the club have gained a high fee from Manchester City for the want away star. Tweets like, “We’ve lost a talent and you’re celebrating a billionaire giving money to another billionaire” and “You’ll never see a penny of it so I don’t know why you’re happy” have been doing the rounds.
Surely in the circumstances people are entitled to be happy that the club have managed to gain a record fee for an English player who pretended to be sick rather than turn up for training? That fans who would give anything to be talented enough to play for Liverpool are relieved to see the back of someone that has metaphorically spat on the club’s crest? Everyone would rather have a motivated, dedicated Sterling in the team than £50 million in the bank but that was never going to happen, so under the circumstances why can’t fans celebrate the club standing up to a player and his agent trying to hold them to ransom?
The club has made mistakes and may well make them again, but as far as Sterling is concerned they’ve got rid of someone who didn’t want to play for Liverpool in exchange for a large amount of money.
There should be no revisionism from Liverpool fans moving forward. Sterling is an exceptional talent who could go on to become one of the best players in the world. He will be sorely missed during the hardest times at Anfield next season. But given he wanted to leave, the Reds should say good riddance, cash the cheque as soon as they can and move on to bigger and better things.