Raheem Sterling’s agent appears to have looked at the Luis Suarez saga and taken away a lesson that says if he makes his client toxic enough, his position at Liverpool will become untenable and the club will be more likely to deal him. Of course, that rather misses a few important pieces of context.
First, it misses that Luis Suarez was a player at his peak and one of the top three players in the world at the time of his sale, which meant Barcelona were willing to pay £75M for him despite that he was in the midst of a four-month ban and had a lengthy history of on the pitch indiscretions.
It also misses that when Suarez went to the press the previous summer, accusing Brendan Rodgers of being a liar as part of his attempts to force a move away—with league rivals Arsenal the most likely destination at the time—the club held firm, fined him, sent him to train on his own, and in the end got their way.
Sterling, for all his talent, is a very different case. Rather than one of the best players in the world he is one of the most promising. With Sterling, Liverpool are also protected by the promise of training compensation should they hold on to him for the remainder of his contract—a contract paying him a relatively paltry £35k a week.
If Sterling is a headache—and he very clearly has become one—then it might induce Liverpool to sell. If Sterling is so much of a headache it drives down what other clubs might be willing to pay for him, though, it soon starts to make more sense for Liverpool to hold on to Sterling.
If Sterling becomes toxic enough that the likes of Chelsea and City are only willing to offer £20-30M for him, letting him waste away in the reserves for two years on low wages before taking the training compensation fee when he does leave begins to look awfully appealing. And not just for visceral reasons.
Selling one of the most talented young players in England to another English club hurts Liverpool’s chances of making it back into the top four or maybe even winning the league. Selling Sterling doesn’t take place in a vacuum, where to get something back is better than to get nothing back.
And unlike with an older player, the option isn’t getting nothing back. Arbitration would seek to award market value for the player should he run down his contract. The option, if his agent has now made him too toxic for other clubs to pay a high fee now, would be taking less than he’s worth now and seeing a rival made better.
It might make good financial sense, if Liverpool can’t get a massive fee, to send Sterling to train on his own on £35k—at least if he refuses to apply himself or is a negative presence. His career would stagnate and he’d be worth less in the end, but Liverpool would still get a fee. And wouldn’t immediately strengthen a rival.
Now let us know how you see it and what you would do. Would you sell Sterling on the cheap just to be rid of him? Or like with Suarez the first time he tried to move, would you send Sterling to the reserves to train on his own unless a massive offer arrives?