By Justin Fitzgerald
Raheem Sterling was 17 years old when he played in his first match as a member of the Liverpool first team, coming on as a substitute for Dirk Kuyt in a match Liverpool ended up losing to Wigan Athletic. What were you doing when you were 17? I’m pretty sure I was waiting tables at a local bar, playing youth league football, and watching “skinemax” without cable and hoping to see some squiggly boobs go by now and then. Clearly living the dream.
Fast forward to this season. Raheem Sterling at 18 years of age has now solidified himself as a first team regular, consistently starting on the left wing. His presence in the side makes Liverpool markedly more threatening going forward. Sterling has teamed up well with Gerard and Suarez, creating intricate triangles around the pitch and moving the ball fluidly with efficiency and grace. It often epitomizes the beauty of Spanish football, a pass and move style of play that Rodgers has been working hard to recreate.
Raheem Sterling has grown as a player, both mentally and physically, and it would be unfair not to give Brendan Rodgers credit for playing a large role in his maturation process. Liverpool fans caught a glimpse of the ‘no – nonsense’ management style of the Northern Irishman firsthand as he disciplined Raheem for speaking back in a training session on national television.
It’s this structure and system of support Rodgers put in place that has resulted in such a speedy development, and why Liverpool is the perfect club for the young Jamaican. At the end of the day Sterling is still 18 years old and it’s important that he be brought along at an appropriate pace. It’s vital to have patience and not try to take on too much too fast. Rodgers has shown that he has Sterling’s best interests in mind, using him sparingly at first, and easing him into the starting 11 through substitute appearances and Europa League games. The Red’s boss is also wary of over-using the young Jamaican, having told http://www.liverpoolfc.com recently, “There is no doubt Raheem is one who does need that breather. For the kid, it’s about efficiency as well. Tactically he’s still very young. That time will come and he will get the breather soon enough.”
Seeing the bigger picture is far easier when you’re on the outside looking in. Liverpool supporters have every right to feel frustrated when a player appears to be holding the club hostage for a bigger payday, but let us imagine just for the sake of argument that you’re a young successful footballer. You’ve solidified yourself as a first team regular with Liverpool FC and you’ve recently broken into the senior English national squad as well (albeit as an unused sub). You’re one of the most exciting and impactful players on the pitch at any given time, and one of if not the most promising prospects at the most storied club in English football. Then you look down the bench and what do you see? You see Stewart Downing on £80,000 a week, you see Jordan Henderson on £70,000 a week, and Joe Cole scraping by on £90,000. Your agent is constantly chirping in your ear, promising the world and urging you to hold out for more and in the other ear your family is likely doing the same. I don’t pretend to know Raheem Sterling’s personal situation. I do know that his hometown of Kingston Jamaica is one of the world’s poorest most crime-ridden cities. The incentives are obvious, so why not hold out for more money?
At the end of the day I’m still confident that Raheem Sterling will recognize that it’s not only about the money. Peace of mind is priceless and the right environment to develop as a player surrounded by the greatest supporters any club could ask for is worth more in the long run than a big payday right now. Hopefully a deal can be made that’s fair to the player and the club. Ian Ayre knows the value of Raheem Sterling to Liverpool FC and will hopefully secure a sensible contract with incremental raises and performance based incentives that will eventually bring him in line with the other first team regulars. That much he deserves.