Liverpool fans said goodbye to Steven Gerrard at Anfield last weekend, but this week has all been about Raheem Sterling. One representation of loyalty following another a bit too conveniently, and the story of contract negotiations with Sterling and his representative Aidy Ward has been completely dominant. It already feels like the season is over, and in some ways it is, but where Liverpool finish in the league dictates how early next season starts and underlines the need for victory at Stoke City. That should be, and hopefully is, the focus of Brendan Rodgers ahead of the English Premier League's final fixture of the campaign, but his take on the week's events was always going to be of great interest to observers.
Sterling's representative (Gary Neville says we should use this term instead of "agent") made controversial comments in relation to his client's contract negotiations, which have in turn moved the club to cancel talks that were planned for today. Both Sterling and Ward expected to sit down with Brendan Rodgers and Ian Ayre to reaffirm a desire to leave the club, but the situation has clearly changed. Knobs have that effect apparently. For Brendan Rodgers, the club's public stance on the matter remains unchanged, but the manager wouldn't be drawn on whether the 20-year-old expressed a desire to leave before the game against Chelsea earlier in the month.
"It's very difficult to comment on what other people speak about," Rodgers said in response to the week's unsavoury events. "We have always been clear. It will always be dealt with internally. We look to do thing privately. The concentration for myself is to continue to improve Raheem as a footballer. Whether there are talks or not, he has two years left and I expect him to be here. It is quite simple. The ownership have shown their strength in their time here. They have done an incredible job to stabilise the club. In this situation, they will show that strength and power to the club. The simple fact is Raheem has two years left on his contract.
"What he said and didn't say will remain private. Whatever conversation I have had with a player will remain private. I am not going to sit here and reveal what went on. I don't see Raheem being unhappy. His representative made it very clear he wanted to speak at the end of the season. I'm sure talks will take place over the summer. If he is fit, which he is at the moment, then he will be available for selection on Sunday. My relationship with him has not been affected. We have given Raheem an opportunity to play for one of the greatest clubs in the world. We want to resolve the situation but it does not change my approach to him. He is a good kid who has matured over the last few years. If he starts or doesn't start, he will get the support from the fans."
Well. The emphasis on privacy from the manager reveals how unprofessional Aidy Ward is viewed by the Liverpool hierarchy, and for now, the public stance from senior figures at the club has been maintained: Sterling is expected to remain with the club, a talented young player has two years left on his contract at a club that has been good to him, and the club will try to find a solution with the player. To expect anything else from Rodgers at this stage would be quite ambitious, and the next stage in this saga is an actual game of football. If Sterling plays, will he get booed or applauded by the away support? He has already experienced the reactions of some unhappy Liverpool fans at the club's annual awards ceremony where the contract rebel scamp picked up the Young Player of the Year award, but Rodgers will have to decide whether the best way forward is to leave the player out of the squad entirely, place him on the bench, or continue to select him as he has done throughout the season.