The winger’s demands are entirely reasonable.
When Ashley Cole published his autobiography, My Defence, in 2006, he fired the starting gun on his descent to becoming one of the most disliked players in the country.
Forget the cross-London transfer, the infidelity or the air gun incident, the reason Cole occupied the space that he did during his time with Chelsea was because of that one paragraph in his book which forever cast him as a cliche of modern footballing avarice.
Cole recalled his incredulity at learning, from agent Jonathan Barnett, that Arsenal were only willing to pay him £50,000/week.
And so a modern hate-figure was born.
Different character though he may be, Raheem Sterling has found himself in a similar situation after reports that Liverpool’s attempt to tie him to a new contract have so far been unsuccessful.
Supposedly, Sterling has rejected a basic wage of £100,000/week and is holding out for something closer to £150k.
Cue the outrage and the pejorative adjectives: obscene, vulgar, disgusting etc. That’s very much the tone of the coverage around this and Sterling can expect it to get a lot worse between now and whenever he decides to return to the negotiating table.
We all agree, unanimously, that footballers are paid far, far too much. That, however, doesn’t change the context within which their talent is priced – everybody knows that, but that doesn’t stop the same articles being written any time something like this happens.
Raheem Sterling wants to be paid in accordance with his importance to Liverpool and he’s entitled to make that demand. His stance here doesn’t make him greedy, it just means that he’s aware of what he’s worth in relation to the rest of the industry.
It’s the same anywhere and it applies to any job in the country: every worker, no matter how low or high-skilled, has an opinion on what he or she should be paid depending on what their colleagues earn.
“That guy earns more than me because he can do X,Y & Z, but I earn more than him because I’m better at Task A, B and C.”
Sterling is no different. He – or more likely his agents, Impact Sports – have looked around the Premier League, seen the new broadcasting contract, and recognised that elite players are regularly being paid somewhere between the £150,000-£250,000/week range.
Raheem may be a new addition to the list, but he probably does belong in that top category now. He’s an established England international, he’s arguably Liverpool’s best player, and – unpalatable as it is to us, the fans – that £100,000 figure probably is too low. If he is to agree to a new contract, it not only has to reflect what he’s worth to his club now, but also how important he’s likely to become over the next three or four years.
For the sake of context, remember that this is a club who until recently were paying Luis Suarez £200,000/week and who are, until the Summer at least, obliged to load Glen Johnson’s bank account with £130,000/week.
Raheem Sterling has spent the last year listening to Brendan Rodgers’ repeated proclamations about the winger’s status within the game, so why would he now settle for a second-tier wage? If you’re going to tell the world that one of your players is special and that he’s a scarce commodity, there will come a point at which he demands a contract which properly reflects that.
This is a strange situation, because it’s simultaneously vulgar and reasonable – but it does need to be approached from the player’s perspective.
This is the game now and, advisable though it would be for Sterling to stay in an environment which is so obviously aiding his development, he cannot be expected to ignore the market that he works in.