We ask some of the This Is Anfield regulars for their views on how Liverpool should handle the Raheem Sterling situation this summer.
As history repeats itself, the Sterling contract saga looks set to dominate proceedings this summer, with the latest development taking place ahead of the final game of the season this weekend.
While we can all agree that each party – the player, his agent and Liverpool themselves – have played a part in the farce so far, what should Liverpool as a club do next?
We ask some of the This Is Anfield regulars for their views on what they’d like to see happen.
1. Would you play Sterling on Sunday?
KARL MATCHETT: No. Put him on the bench. Let him see the reaction he gets when he goes out to warm up, come on as sub, and what he might have to look forward to next season if the club opts to not let him move this summer. Plenty of players have turned relationships around with fans once they reaffirm commitment, pick up form, etc. Liverpool should use absolutely every tool and trick they have to try and win this situation.
NEIL POOLE: If, as a club, we want to take a strong stance against being ‘held to ransom’ by players then the thing to do is actually play him. Assuming that the intention is for him to start, to bench him now would mean that Rodgers would have to change and adapt his plans to facilitate and bend to the whim of one player. This would send out the wrong message. He should start. If he doesn’t perform, he can be dragged off to mitigate any risk to the outcome of the game.
HENRY JACKSON: No. It doesn’t benefit either party, given that Sterling’s mind is clearly frazzled and he will receive abuse from his own fans.
JACK LUSBY: I’d say no, given his current form and the likely vociferous reaction he’d provoke from the fans. Completely damaging to the whole side.
TOM McMAHON: I wouldn’t, he’s tailed off completely the past few months and was nothing short of dreadful against Crystal Palace. If he can’t even put a shift in during Gerrard’s last home fixture then it’s hard to see him reigniting his enthusiasm against Stoke away in a fixture with little to play for. Rather try Sinclair or Markovic with a view for next season.
JEFF GOULDING: Yes. He is contracted to the club. To not play him would send out a signal that his days are numbered. Even if we do ultimately sell, having him out of the squad would weaken our hands in any negotiations over fees and embolden him and his agent.
AARON CUTLER: Yes. Withdrawing him from the firing line will be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He is contracted to Liverpool Football Club and if available for selection should earn his corn.
PJ VAUGHAN: Yes I would play Sterling on Sunday, Liverpool should want to finish as high in the league as they can. Sterling is one of our best players. For me its a no brainer.
2. What should the club do this summer?
KARL: I’m torn, and it’s all a bit sudden, but common sense says if you get a big enough offer… cash in. Nobody is going to be that dismayed if Sterling leaves, despite his obvious talent, because if you’re not working hard enough and not putting in the performances — and he’s not — then ability means nothing. With that in mind, I’d err on the side of selling… but as stated, for the right amount.
NEIL: If he is adamant he wants go, we should sell him. However, we need to learn from the mistakes from last year with Suarez’s departure and ensure we have a top class player in the bag to replace him. He shouldn’t be allowed to leave until his replacement has put pen to paper and is photographed holding a Liverpool shirt at Melwood.
HENRY: When a player clearly wants to leave, it’s pointless keeping hold of him regardless of how good he is. It’s delaying the inevitable, and his relationship with the club is at the point of no return.
JACK: Sell him to the highest bidder, preferably abroad. No point holding on to a player that doesn’t want to be at the club.
TOM: I would honestly sell him if the fee was substantial, however I don’t trust the club to reinvest the money wisely. There’s no point selling Sterling then splashing £30 million on Bolasie, for example. So in short, I would sell him but given that Liverpool’s transfer policy is still haphazard, it’s probably wise to try and keep him.
JEFF: The club is now in a very difficult position. He’s 20 with massive potential, but if they hold out he will probably end up going for a smaller fee in January or maybe next summer anyway. In the meantime the effect of him sulking and under-performing may have a detrimental effect on the team and lower his value further.
The harsh reality is that he is going to go now and the only thing the club can do is maximise his value/fee. This unfortunately means it will go to the wire and we risk not having time to spend any influx of cash. The only way to mitigate this is for the club to speculate on the potential fee and invest in a replacement up front, but will FSG take such a gamble?
AARON: If Sterling is to depart it can only be on the club’s terms. I’d entertain bids from abroad but rule out any sale to an English rival. Losing him to Arsenal in particular would be symbolic. We should be targeting the Gunners, not allowing them to pinch our best players. Moreover Sterling is nowhere near as good as he or his agent believe him to be. No 20-year-old should be dictating to a club the size of Liverpool, never mind one whose fledgling career pales in comparison to the likes of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. You’ve achieved nothing yet lad.
PJ: I would not sell Sterling in the summer unless we got a crazy offer. The club needs to keep their best players. If things don’t improve, we can always sell him in January as players value increase when underperforming clubs get desperate. I have seen may say let him go as we have Jordon Ibe, while Ibe is a promising young player, he is yet to show that he has the same ability as Sterling and is likely to be on loan again next season.
3. What’s the minimum amount you’d let him leave for?
KARL: £40 million, but I’d certainly push for more, whether that’s based on appearances, trophies etc. in the future. Young and English are premiums, as is pace, plus he has international standing and the ability to score goals. He’s not a £50 million player as such, but since when has that mattered? Clubs pay for potential. So anywhere between 40-50 is a goer for me.
NEIL: We’ve regularly been rinsed paying the ‘young, English player’ premium. If he goes I want our pound of flesh. Taking Luke Shaw, a full back, as a £30 million starting point, then being one of the best young attacking players in Europe and England international immediately adds another £10 million. Taking into account that he would probably go to a side we’ll be in direct competition with, then I’d throw another £10 million as a softener. £50 million may sound excessive but it’s time for us to set a ridiculously high bar for other teams to meet for a change.
HENRY: Minimum of £40m, given the fact he has recently been voted Europe’s best young player and the potential he has.
JACK: With anywhere between £35 million and £50 million mooted as Liverpool’s realistic asking price, I’d take anywhere within that price range, given it can be immediately reinvested — letting him run down his low-wage contract and leaving on a free in 2017 should not be an option for the club. If possible, a player-plus-cash deal should be broached with bidding clubs — a steadfast approach when it came to Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez with Barcelona last summer could have made all the difference this season, and Sterling would likely have not been in this situation if that was the case.
TOM: Probably £40+ million if he’s kicking up a storm in the dressing room.
JEFF: Pellegrini said he could be England’s first 100 million pound player!! This is clearly a ridiculous sum and we won’t get that. However, the Reds should be driving a very hard bargain and putting out noises that they are prepared to keep him is the right thing to do. I think £40-50 million in the current market (increased TV revenue, need to recruit young English players and his resale value) is entirely plausible.
AARON: With two years to run on his contract I’d only entertain bids of £50m or above.
PJ: What price can you put on one of the most promising young players in world football. It’s not so much what he is worth now, but what he could be worth in a couple of years. For instance if he was to go to Chelsea, I’d want Oscar, Cech and a sizeable amount of cash. Liverpool’s biggest problem is recruiting good players, so no point losing another good one unless we can guarantee a couple of top players are coming the other way.
4. If/when he goes, who/where would you want the money spent?
KARL: I’ve said it before and it still holds true regardless of funds for summer or Sterling’s place in the team: Liverpool has to be built around Philippe Coutinho. Therefore, whoever is brought into the club has to be capable of allowing Phil to flourish — so that’s defensive players who will look after the spaces behind him, offensive players who are mobile and will make the runs for him, someone creative and wide to allow Coutinho not to be the sole focus of the ball/opposition defences, but also still allow him to play in the middle…and so on.
HENRY: A consistent, reliable right-back, a midfield playmaker and a striker.
JACK: Given the high fee that Liverpool would likely receive, I’d like to see it not only invested in a ready-made replacement, such as Bayer Leverkusen’s Heung-Min Son, but also thrown into the pot to supplement the funds going towards signings at full-back, centre-back, central midfield and striker.
TOM: Depay would have been perfect, unfortunately. I’m an admirer of Theo Walcott and think he’s underrated, so wouldn’t mind if the club enquired for his services. Slightly more polished at this stage and a better finisher than Sterling.
JEFF: Liverpool need a goal scorer who will guarentee them 25-30 goals a season. The loss of Suarez has been critical this season. If we are to prize a top striker out away from their club and out of the clutches of one of the top 4, we are going to have to spend big. For me all of the money from a potential Sterling sale should go on this. We could all come up with a wish list, but with no Champions League we may have to be realistic and hope to pull another Suarez out of the bag, i.e. a player with huge ability who is flying under the radar. Does Liverpool’s scouting network have what it takes? Not so sure.
AARON: This side is crying out for goals. I’d splash serious cash on two top class strikers, neither of which is Danny Ings. I’d also be on the lookout for a goalscoring midfielder.
PJ: Last summer we spent 100M plus trying to replace Suarez and failed miserably. Liverpool can’t attract top players currently and would most likely waste the transfer fee and offer some under performing players the wages they won’t give Sterling.
5. Would you be happy for LFC to refuse a move and have him see out his final two years at the club?
KARL: 100% no. Absolutely no sense in that. We’d have an unhappy player doing absolutely nothing for the next two years — maybe just at the back end of each season to justify inclusion in Euro 2016 squads and then pick up a decent move — and we’d lose out on tens of millions of pounds on someone we’ve invested coaching, wages and game time to over the past five years. Sell or sign, has to be.
NEIL: This may sound at odds to my answer to question one, but I think we’d need to be careful about cutting our nose to spite our face. His whole LFC career operates a much bigger scale than one game and therefore you need to change tact. I’ve seen nothing in the last few months which convinces me that Sterling can play to the best of his ability when his head isn’t right. While his performances haven’t been as bad as many have made out there has certainly been a drop off.
Therefore, I don’t think we’d see the type of mentality demonstrated by Suarez after he was refused a move. The question is, can we get his head back in the right place? Considering the potential of Sterling, Liverpool would be showing neglect if they didn’t try everything proportionately possible to convince him to stay. If we could bring about a genuine change in attitude then I’m happy for him to stay. If, after we have explored all avenues, he still wants to go then let him go, on out terms only.
HENRY: Only if he came out publicly and showed a genuine desire to want to help Liverpool push on in that time. If he’s not going to be giving it his all, it would be hugely detrimental to the team.
JACK: In a word, no. It’d be juvenile and unproductive.
TOM: Not really, he doesn’t have the same natural enthusiasm for the game as someone like Suarez, so I could imagine a placid, sulky and ineffective Sterling on the pitch, should he be ‘forced’ to stay. I rather he does a U-turn and decides that the club is best for him, of course, but we’ve seen much better players than Sterling leave in the past decade.
JEFF: That’s a really difficult one. In an ideal world yes. However, the reality is only two clubs in England could afford to do that (City and Chelsea). We are just not in the same league as them financially and I feel we we have no option but to cash in if he says he wants a move. To lose him on a free, or even for something ridiculous like 10-20 million next year would be criminal.
The real question is how do we as a club get ourselves into such a situation time and again – Mcmanaman, Owen, Torres, Suarez and now Sterling. Even to a lesser extent we have dropped the ball with Gerrard, in that if we had offered a deal earlier we would have kept him. Instead we dragged our heels and have lost an icon of the club.
AARON: Part of me loves the idea of us standing firm and forcing this money motivated mercenary to sit on his ‘paltry’ £35k a week. However though feasible for 12 months we would suffer if we resisted any longer.
PJ: Yes, Brendan Rodgers may not last another season. A new manager might be able to convenience him to stay. If he is a disruptive influence send him on loan for a fee.