The Sterling Saga

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Throughout the past few days, a storm has been raging through English football, with Raheem Sterling turning down a new £100,000 a week deal that Liverpool have offered him.

In an interview with the BBC, the winger claimed he was not a “money-grabbing 20-year old” and also said he would have accepted less than £100,000 a week had he been offered a new deal this time last year, when the Reds were chasing the Premier League title. You can watch the full interview here.

He will not enter talks again until the summer, no matter how big a deal he might be offered in the meantime, something which Brendan Rodgers has come to accept.

But all of this has led to many rumours that Sterling could be on his way out of Anfield, with stories tipping him for a move to Manchester City, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

I was watching BT Sport’s coverage of Arsenal vs Liverpool on Saturday, and they were asking viewers to use the hash tag #SterlingShould to say well, what he should do.

So here’s the options available to him as well as what I think #SterlingShould do.

Option 1: Stay at Liverpool

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Pros

At Liverpool, Raheem Sterling is perhaps the club’s most influential player, except for a fully fit Daniel Sturridge. In the league is the club’s joint top scorer this season (6), as well as the player with the most assists (7) and chances created (62). Without him, the Reds would be struggling even more than they are now to reach the top four, especially as the aforementioned Sturridge has been out the majority of this season through injury.

When Steven Gerrard was around the age that Sterling is now, there were many rumours linking him away from Anfield. Indeed, he came incredibly close to joining Chelsea in 2004. But the Reds skipper has stayed, and become a Liverpool legend, with the trophies he has won and the goals he has scored. Nowadays, it is very rare for a player to stay at one club for the entirety of his career, and even Gerrard is moving on at the end of the season, but if Sterling was to stay on Merseyside for say another ten years, he could write himself into Anfield folklore, maybe winning the Champions League with the club or claiming the Reds’ first ever Premier League title. Because of his quality, Sterling could be the star man in these victories, and become a legend in the process.

Could Sterling become an Anfield legend like Gerrard?
Could Sterling become an Anfield legend like Gerrard?

Because of the belief that Brendan Rodgers has in him, Sterling is a regular starter at Liverpool and is relatively unchallenged in the starting XI. Lazar Markovic has occasionally played on the right wing, but even in those games, Sterling has been picked to start up front over Mario Balotelli or Rickie Lambert. I have Sterling in my fantasy team because he’s almost guaranteed to be played every week, in a variety of positions. It’s a luxury that the winger may not get at other clubs.

Cons

Many of the rumours suggest that Sterling wants to leave Anfield because of the lack of silverware. In his interview with the BBC, the winger said: “I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That’s all I talk about.”. There is truth to the fact that such a historic club such as Liverpool haven’t been winning enough trophies over the last few years. The Reds’ last trophy came in in 2012, when they beat Cardiff on penalties to win the League Cup, when Sterling wasn’t even involved with the first team. They looked on course to win the Premier League last season but slipped up at the end of the campaign, whilst their only realistic chance of silverware in 2014-15 is the FA Cup, which Arsenal are huge favourites for.

Liverpool’s 4-1 loss to the Gunners on Saturday means that the Reds are now eight points off the top four, so hopes of Champions League football next season are thin. This won’t be what Sterling wants, as it is of course the biggest club trophy in European football. They may well get Europa League, but if clubs that are playing Champions League football came in with an offer, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. This could be a decisive factor in whether Sterling stays on Merseyside this summer.

Sterling after Liverpool had been knocked out of the Champions League earlier this season
Sterling after Liverpool had been knocked out of the Champions League earlier this season

With Luis Suarez leaving the club last summer and Steven Gerrard jetting off to the USA at the end of this campaign, Sterling has fast run out of players that he can learn from at Anfield, with the lack of experienced players on Merseyside surprising. When Gerrard has left in the summer, only five players left in the Liverpool squad will be over 30, and some of them could leave too, such as Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure and Rickie Lambert. Captain in waiting Jordan Henderson is only 24 himself, so not exactly someone Sterling can take tips from, whilst Brendan Rodgers is still learning as a coach himself. Were the winger to move on he could well go to a club with world class players to help develop his game. He said himself: “You really want to be working with world-class players day in, day out. It’s obviously left a little dent, these two world-class superstars [Gerrard and Suarez] leaving.”

Option 2: Leave Liverpool

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Pros

These elongated contract talks have made one thing clear, that Liverpool don’t want to be pushed around by their players anymore. However, you can’t help but draw parallels to when Luis Suarez pulled a similar stunt and got exactly what he wanted in a new deal. The fact that Sterling hasn’t so far may make him think that he might be valued more elsewhere. It may not be about the money for the winger, or so he says, but if a big club comes in for him, then they could well be willing to pay more than the £100,000 a week that Sterling has been offered at Anfield. Furthermore, if the bid they make is in excess of £50 million, I don’t think Liverpool would hesitate to accept.

We saw when Gareth Bale moved from Tottenham to Real Madrid. The Welshman was already a great player at White Hart Lane, but moving to Spain has furthered his game and made him one of the world’s best. While Sterling at Liverpool, he will always be cut a little slack in the way that other club favourites such as Steven Gerrard are. If the 20 year old really wants to push himself to his limits and become the best he can then the forward should play in a new environment. Having a different manager to learn from would also add to his game, a more experienced boss such as Arsene Wenger or Carlo Ancelotti.

Could Sterling make his game better by learning off players such as Cristiano Ronaldo? It's worked for Gareth Bale...
Could Sterling make his game better by learning off players such as Cristiano Ronaldo? It’s worked for Gareth Bale…

Two things that were cons of staying with Liverpool were the lack of silverware and the fact that Sterling probably wouldn’t be playing Champions League football next season. Any club that comes in for him will be able to offer him that, especially the latter, as that I presume would be the main reason why he could want to leave – to play at the highest level of European football, not playing against a Ukrainian team of nobodies on a Thursday night.

Cons

We’ve seen so many stories over the past few years of promising young players making big money moves to big clubs and it not working out. The prime examples are Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who ended up on the bench at Manchester City and are now trying to resurrect their careers. Especially at somewhere like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, Sterling would have huge competition for places from players such as Gareth Bale, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben. At Liverpool, he is playing most games, which is best for his development. Getting a game every once in a while at a bigger club, no matter how much money he is being paid, could ruin his career and be a threat for the national team as well.

Sterling’s rise over the last 18 months has been absolutely incredible. That has been purely down to Brendan Rodgers, who believed in him the minute he was appointed Liverpool manager, giving him opportunities in the first team to excel, and boy has Sterling excelled. Rodgers has a huge amount of confidence in Sterling and his ability, something which I don’t think any other manager could have. The Northern Irish boss has got the development of Sterling absolutely right, which he has to commend him for. He’s only 20 years old remember, so he still needs to be educated, which might not happen at another club.

I believe that Brendan Rodgers has been key to Sterling's development
I believe that Brendan Rodgers has been key to Sterling’s development

On criticism from former players, Sterling said: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I won’t really take any notice of what they’re saying.”, whereas when asked about supporters’ opinions, the winger said: “I would never want the fans to think bad of me.” This shows that he values the views of the people who pay to watch him week in, week out. Many Reds fans are already angered by the whole situation, criticising Sterling. But he can put this right by a signing a new contract and staying at Anfield for many years, making him a fans’ favourite, and like I said earlier, become a legend. If he leaves, fans will think badly of him, and he’ll probably get booed whenever he returns to Merseyside. What’s more, it may not work out for him with the fans elsewhere, especially abroad. I’ve likened Sterling a lot to Gareth Bale in this article, but just a few weeks ago, the Real Madrid man’s car was wrecked by fans following a number of unimpressive performances. Foreign fans are a lot more critical and jump to conclusions more quickly, and if they get on Sterling’s back when he’s not playing well, the youngster might not be able to handle it.

What I think Sterling should do

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Personally, I think Sterling should stay at Liverpool, for sake of the club and the player. It’s not guaranteed he’ll get regular football elsewhere, whilst the Reds have developed him brilliantly so far and at 20 years old, he’s not finished learning yet. The winger is working under an impressive manager who believes in him, and is willing to give him chances in a variety of positions. He is crucial to Liverpool and key to any chances of winning silverware in the next few years. Doing the BBC interview was a massive mistake, and he has earned a lot of criticism for it. I expect that he went by advice given by his agent, who is just wanting more money for himself. But rather than listen to him, Sterling needs to take the advice that experienced former players such as Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry have given him, and stay at Anfield – for the best of his career. We don’t want to see another promising young player throw his career away for the sake of more money, which if you believe Sterling, isn’t what he will do.

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