Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists the club will not back down in the increasingly acrimonious battle over Raheem Sterling’s contract.
Owners Fenway Sports Group have proved previously in their handling of Luis Suarez, undoubtedly a better player and far more valuable to the Reds, they will not be bullied by players agitating for a move.
So the comments about Sterling “definitely not” signing a new contract even for £900,000-a-week made by agent Aidy Ward, although subsequently disputed by him, cut little ice with John W Henry across the Atlantic.
Liverpool‘s principal owner famously produced the withering put-down “What do you think they’re smoking over there at Emirates?” after Arsenal made a £40million plus £1 bid for Suarez in the mistaken belief they had triggered the Uruguayan’s release clause.
On that occasion Henry stood firm and, after a brief spell training on his own, Suarez produced arguably the best football of his career, signed a new contract less than six months later and when he moved to Barcelona the following summer Liverpool extracted a top price of £75million.
The circumstances of 2013 now appear to be repeating themselves with Sterling but Liverpool‘s stance is exactly the same, indicated by them cancelling Friday’s meeting scheduled by Ward to discuss the future.
“Raheem has two years left and I expect him to see that two years through and continue to behave as immaculately as he has done,” said Rodgers. “The ownership have shown their strength in their time here.
“They took over a club a number of years ago that was in a really critical situation and they have done an incredible job to stabilise the club and point it in the right direction.
“At every opportunity when they have had to show that strength – whether it be with a player or other elements of the club – they have done that.
“In this situation they will show that power and strength again.”
The rift between club and the player’s representative has continued to grow since they rejected the offer of a £100,000-a-week back in January.
However, that does not mean bridges have been entirely burned and Rodgers insists Sterling’s short-term future is not affected and remains optimistic about the longer-term prospects.
“I don’t see Raheem unhappy. I am sure talks will take place over the course of the summer,” he added ahead of Sunday’s trip to Stoke for the final match of the season.
“We want to resolve the situation but it doesn’t change my approach to him.
“There is no problem there. My relationship (with him) hasn’t been affected at all.
“If he is fit, which he is, he will be available for selection.”
While Rodgers insists his relationship with Sterling has not altered the view of supporters is changing for the worse with some fans booing him when he collected young player of the year at the club’s annual awards night. However, the manager will not let that influence his selection for Sunday.
“Liverpool supporters always back their own players. If he starts or doesn’t start at the weekend, or plays any part in the game, he will get the support of the supporters,” he said.
“The away support in particular has been absolutely incredible. Every game, the stands are packed and they give us great support, and that’s for every single player. I wouldn’t expect that to change.”
The Reds boss expressed his disappointment over the way the situation had deteriorated into a very public fall-out.
“It’s very difficult to comment on what other people speak about but we’ve always been very clear here at Liverpool – if we have any meetings or discussions to take place, whether it’s with players, manager or whatever, it’ll all be dealt with internally,” he said.
“We don’t like to publicise what we’re going to do. We just look to do it in-house and as privately as possibly can be.
“The concentration for myself is to continue to improve Raheem as a football player.”