By Manish Pandey.
Defending Raheem Sterling is not the most popular thing in football right now. The words ‘greed’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘bench’ are the buzzwords when describing Sterling’s move to Manchester City. Yet, it seems Sterling having ambitions is somehow a tainted thing.
Loyalty is a much talked about notion in football. It adds to the romance that many of us see in football. But at the end of the day, Sterling is a professional footballer, he has to do what he believes is best for him and his career.
Could he have conducted himself better? Yes, of course, but why should he bother? In the cut throat tribal football industry, he would have been still seen as greedy and arrogant for moving to Manchester City, regardless of whether he would have publicly stated that we was ‘loving life at Liverpool’. His aim is to win trophies, and with the greatest of respect to Liverpool, he has a far superior chance of winning trophies at Manchester City.
Like most footballers, Sterling is a hard and cold individual when surrounded by football. That is no bad thing. It is the reason he is, where he is, at the top level of football. Sterling would have grown up with a number of young lads, trained with them and seen them suffer rejection when clubs and coaches deemed them not good enough.
Loyalty they call it. Most of the footballers playing at the top level have seen the loyalty that clubs show to young footballers. They have seen how quickly clubs can get rid of players on account of it being ‘best for business.’ Clubs have no emotional attachments, why should players?
We often talk about the amount of money footballers earn, looking at the cars, houses and holidays they have with considerable envy. We hardly ever talk about the hard work that footballers put in just to get to the top level.
Take Sterling as an example. Sterling lived a life away from home, uprooted and sent to live with family he did not know, away from his parents, instead lodging with people he calls his ‘house parents’. He moved to Liverpool from his North London estate at just 15.
Looking at the childhood Sterling had, it’s not hard to see why he is so keen to maximise his limited footballing shell life. He left Jamaica for England with his mother at the age of 5, without knowing his father who was murdered.
There are many stories around football about some young players who cannot make it to the top level because of the mental pressures. Players being punished for embarrassing senior players in training with skills, or players being forced to play whilst injured, or even homesickness playing a role in some youngsters being forced to give up the game.
Making it as a top level footballer, or even making it to the top level in any walk of life means you need to have a single track mindset, focused only on what needs to be done in order to succeed. Footballers have seen what will happen if they do not help themselves, they will be binned like the youngster they were training with aged 14.
Footballers are adored and praised for the performances they put on the pitch. Yet it is a selfish nature which has allowed them to perform at the highest level. The one goal they strive to achieve means they have developed a ruthless nature.
Sterling has no deep seated emotional bond to Liverpool. They served a purpose to him, giving him a chance to play football. In the same way for Liverpool, Sterling served a purpose. He was an asset, a commodity for which they were paid £35 million (with further £5 million in add ons and £9 million being given to QPR).
Of course fans who idolised Sterling can feel aggrieved, but the idea of a player forming some type of deep attachment to a football club is fantasy.
Instantly we had ex players and fans rushing to compare Sterling to some of the other English flops at Man City. The pictures of Sterling on a bench were rushed out. He has ruined his career were the calls in some quarters. Steven Gerrard rushed to point out his disappointment in Sterling. Sorry Steven, it’s not as though you ever rejected a contract offer to play in a team with more lucrative riches.
Sterling, in that now infamous BBC interview, said it was not about the money and hinted he would reject a contract offer from Liverpool whatever the wages, because his main aim was to win trophies. Did he believe Liverpool were progressing in the right way to winning trophies? Clearly not, considering they had just lost Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard in consecutive summers.
Will he be financially better off with this move? Yes. Will his chances of winning trophies be higher? Yes. Will he be stuck on the bench? Most certainly not.
For all of his apparent ‘character flaws’, Sterling remains a shining light in English football. Paying close to £50 million means he will most certainly be starting week in and week out for Man City. He also has the qualities to be a world class talent. His game will only improve playing alongside the likes Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Manchester City have paid for potential, overpriced right now? Most certainly, but that is the added price for buying English.
Liverpool received a big sum. Manchester City received a player with lots of potential. Sterling got his desired move. Winners all around.
We should not feel sympathy for Sterling. But to direct so much vitriol towards him is uncalled for.
This is football, it’s business, not personal.