Raheem Sterling was supposed to sign a new deal last summer. Then he was supposed to sign a new deal in the winter. Then he wasn’t going to sign a new deal until the season was over. Or maybe he wasn’t going to sign a deal at all and was instead going to force a move to Arsenal. It may not be clear just when the 20-year-old star’s situation went from nearly sorted to full blown circus, but it’s clear that’s what it has become.
"It’s not about the money at all," Sterling insisted in an interview with the BBC, the young attacker leading with a line that, when deployed by athletes, seems usually to mean that it either is all about the money or that he’s already decided to leave. It could also, of course, be a naive statement of fact, though given the circus the Sterling saga has recently become, most—fans and neutral observers alike—will probably be inclined to look for the more sensational angles.
"I try to kill it off, but I don’t think the public can see it that way," Sterling added when asked about rumours linking him to clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal, and Real Madrid this season. "I just want to take the time to think about what I’ve achieved in my career so far, where I need to go, and what I need to do to get better as a player. I try to just block everything out and do well. Next game is against Arsenal, and I want to do my best. I won’t be hiding."
Given the kindest reading, there really isn’t a great deal wrong with any of that. However, that Sterling also confirms in recent weeks he turned down an £100k per week deal, one he would have signed had it been offered a year ago in the midst of Liverpool’s title push, won’t do much to help his cause or image. It may be that there, too, there is an innocent reading, an admission that caught up in the high of last season he would have signed without pause.
The optics, though, aren’t good, and it’s easy enough to read it as a young payer whose career has been made by Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers bolting at the first sign of trouble. In fact, a number of national journalists have already begun to spin his words in just that direction, and if Liverpool fans buy into it, Sterling’s assertion he doesn’t want to be seen as greedy and more worried about money than football could well backfire and see fans begin to turn on him.
And so, it seems, the circus goes on. Gets bigger and messier and, increasingly, destined to end in anger and recrimination and a bad ending. Of course, before getting too worked up, it would be good for Liverpool fans to remember that Sterling still has a deal that runs through the summer of 2017. A new deal for him may be a priority, but no matter what the press says, it isn’t yet a situation where the club needs a deal done tomorrow or to cut their losses.
It’s also worth remembering, for Liverpool fans, that if the current impasse continues and Sterling’s contract expires in 2017, the club would be owed compensation for his training. Burnley expect to get £7M this summer for 22-year-old Danny Ings. Manchester City got, when everything was said and done, £9M in compensation for Daniel Sturridge at a time when he had played 23 first team games, scored five goals, and hadn’t yet made a single England appearance.
Two years from now, for a player who at that point would have started for his country at the World Cup and in the Euros and played over 150 games for his club, the compensation would be massive. Liverpool could reasonably expect to be awarded £50M or more if the player left on a "free" for Arsenal or Manchester City, and while the numbers drop if he leaves for the continent, at the very least there should be no fear of Sterling heading to a league rival on the cheap.
For all the power Sterling has in negotiations and for as much of a circus as things have become, there isn’t reason for Liverpool fans to panic. A new deal is important, but Liverpool still have two years left to do it in and even if Sterling were to run his contract down he wouldn’t be heading to London with the club getting nothing in return. It’s not a good situation Liverpool—or, increasingly, Raheem Sterling—find themselves in. But it isn’t the end of the world.