A lot can change in a year. In April 2014 Liverpool were flying up the table and in the thick of an eleven game winning run that saw them come excruciatingly close to an inaugural Premier League title. Their stupendously talented front three of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and young Raheem Sterling were knocking in goals for fun, blowing teams away with powerful and fast-paced attacking play.
However, fast forward twelve months and things are rather different around Anfield. Liverpool have once again improved after Christmas, but face an uphill struggle to return to the Champions League. Luis Suarez has left for richer pastures in Barcelona, inspirational captain Steven Gerrard is out of form and on his way out of the club and Raheem Sterling, the former teenage darling of the Kop, is stalling over signing a new contract.
It is hard to discern what is going on in Sterling’s head at the moment. In an ill-judged interview on Wednesday, Sterling claimed he was not a “money-grabbing 20-year-old” and that he wants to win as many trophies in his career as possible. Whilst these reasons seem fair, he also admitted he had turned down a £100,000 per-week deal with the Anfield club, angering many Liverpool fans. He also admitted he would have jumped at the chance to sign such a deal this time last year, adding further fuel to a fire that could become a major issue. Liverpool fans have mostly taken the interview in the opposite way to Sterling’s intentions, and their famous loyalty is starting to be tested by Sterling’s stance. So what next for Liverpool’s most promising talent?
Well for the immediate future, seemingly nothing: Brendan Rodgers has come out stating that Sterling is going nowhere. His current deal does not expire until 2017 and Liverpool are under no pressure to sell. There has been rumoured interest from Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea from within the Premier League and also Real Madrid and Bayern Munich from outside.
Should one of the big English clubs try and come in for Sterling, it is likely that owner John W. Henry will take a similar stance to the one he took in rejecting Arsenal’s infamously cheeky forty million and one pound bid for Luis Suarez two years ago. Liverpool will not sell one of their most promising players to their closest rivals, certainly not when they are under no financial pressure to do so.
If Sterling were to fall completely out of favour with Liverpool fans or demand to leave this summer, the only real option for him would be to head abroad, with European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich supposedly monitoring the situation. Whilst Sterling is certainly a supremely talented player, he would struggle to find his way into either of these teams starting line-ups: at Bayern he will hardly usurp the likes of Robben, Ribery, Müller and Götze in the attacking midfield positions, whilst Real have the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Isco spearheading their midfield. Sterling is not quite ready to step up to one of Europe’s big clubs, maybe in two or three years time, but not now, which would make moving abroad an unlikely option.
So Liverpool won’t sell to a rival, and Sterling is not ready for a place at one of Europe’s top clubs yet, therefore staying where he is remains the best option for him. But is it really the best option for Liverpool? Whilst Sterling is a fine player, one that they consider themselves very lucky to have in their team, Sterling is far from indispensable from the line-up. Sterling has spent much of the season filling in up front for Daniel Sturridge, who when fit will be automatic first choice up front on account of his vastly superior finishing ability compared to Sterling.
Sterling’s best position is arguably just behind the striker, where he performed so brilliantly for the Reds at the end of the previous campaign. However, their player of the season Philippe Coutinho and £25 million signing Adam Lallana seem to have these positions nailed down on account of their creativity and control, which has left Sterling out at right wing back. This is probably Sterling’s least effective role in Liverpool’s current 3-4-2-1 formation, and is apparently part of the reason for this contract saga. With Jordon Ibe impressing in this position before he picked up an injury in the Europa League, and Lazar Markovic also performing admirably there earlier in the season. Furthermore, Ibe and Markovic are 19 and 21 respectively, virtually the same age as Sterling. Should he choose to leave, Liverpool will have no problem finding a direct replacement for him with these two potential stars in the squad and performing so impressively.
Despite Sterling’s difficult stance, Liverpool actually have more control over the situation than is thought. Whilst they would much rather tie Sterling down and keep him in the team for as long as possible, hence the lucrative contract offers, the Reds are in a very strong position. They have no need to sell, and will definitely not let Sterling go to one of their Premier League rivals. Should Sterling move abroad, they would most likely receive a fee somewhere in the region of £40 to £50 million, and all of this for a player who is far from indispensable to Liverpool’s line-up.
Sterling is currently at a club who appreciate his talent and wish to keep him. Liverpool are a young side who appear to be building a positive team under Brendan Rodgers, with young players such as Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho and Jordon Ibe constantly improving and developing the side, Liverpool are on an upward trend that Raheem Sterling would benefit from being part of. At the age of 20 he would struggle to get into one of Europe’s top sides, so staying with Liverpool where he is a certain starter would probably prove to be the best move for him. Should he choose to move on, though, Liverpool have enough talent coming through to be able to cope with his loss, with an expensive sale would benefit the Reds finances significantly. Sterling has tried to take control of the situation with a strong stance on his contract, but whether he stays or goes, Liverpool will deal with it comfortably. They hold all the cards and have very little to lose in this situation, but if this continues to drag on unresolved, it could cause Raheem Sterling a great deal of difficulty. Sterling’s ill-judged interview took place on April 1st- April Fool’s Day. Should he make the wrong decision on his future, the joke will firmly be on him.