Instead, there was only one issue on the agenda, brought about by Raheem Sterling’s television interview 24 hours earlier.The interview in which he suddenly seemed happy to discuss that unsigned £100,000-a-week contract, assert he is a trophy-hunter rather than a money-grabber and, perhaps most alarming of all, admit he is flattered by interest from tomorrow’s opponents from north London.
Instead of talking about the race for a Champions League pot of gold, Rodgers found himself again discussing the subject of Sterling’s silver.The response seemed well prepared, a message of solidarity combined with a show of strength.
Sterling is going nowhere was the emphatic statement. And if there were any suggestion from the 20-year-old that Liverpool need to convince him they can match his ambition, the message from Rodgers was equally clear: count yourself lucky to be here.
‘Arsenal is a fantastic football club, of course, but this is Liverpool, one of the great clubs of the football world,’ said the Anfield boss ‘It’s an honour for Raheem to play here at a club like Liverpool in front of our great supporters and he understands that. He sees that.‘If Raheem has said his ambition is to win trophies and be successful, then it’s perfectly aligned with what we’re trying to do.’
There was a reminder to Sterling and his representatives that his stock has risen on the back of the work Liverpool have done with him and the faith Rodgers has placed in the player.He is, Rodgers remarked, not yet the finished article. Not yet of the same calibre as Luis Suarez who eventually got his move away from Merseyside.
‘Now, as a 20-year-old, no he’s not at that level,’ said Rodgers. ‘Raheem has been involved with the first team for two-and-a-half years and the player he is today — and he still has a lot of improvements to make — is because of the environment and what we’ve created here.
‘He’s still got learning and development to make on and off the pitch. We feel this is a great place for him. We’ll very much focus on trying to make him the best player we can.‘He’s a young player who has developed a lot and that’s because of one reason, which is Liverpool. So we’re quite relaxed on that and we’ll concentrate on his football, hopefully. ‘For us it’s really about continuing to nurture the development of a young player who has made huge strides and someone who we believe we still have a lot of input into his development to come so he can be consistently a player playing at the top of his game.’
There is a growing feeling that Sterling and his representatives are attempting to force Liverpool’s hand and orchestrate a move back to London, where Arsenal and Chelsea would welcome him home with open arms.
Certainly the mixed messages over the contract stalemate in recent months have been confusing. Is it about money? Is it about trophies? Is it about Sterling’s best position?
The latter, according to Rodgers, should not be an issue. Most important of all is that Sterling is a first-team regular getting the kind of opportunities that young players do not elsewhere.
The manager drew comparisons with Steven Gerrard. ‘Every player will have a position to play,’ he said. ‘I pick the best team and what is key for him — and I’m sure he understands — is that he’s getting the opportunity to play.
‘If you look through this league and in Europe, there aren’t many playing at 17, 18, 19 or 20.‘Every player will want to play but he only needs to look at Steven Gerrard in his time here. He played in a back three, as a wing back, right back, left back, central midfield, as a No 10.
‘It doesn’t bother me. I pick the best team and he will probably sit back, reflect and think he is playing, which not many young kids are.‘He’s a boy who genuinely loves his football. He’s played all over the field for me but he understands and respects the opportunity that he’s had to play all over the field. It’s been great for him and his career.’
There is little doubt that Sterling’s interview has been unhelpful in the extreme, but there remains a determination at Anfield to keep the player onside and head off a contract crisis.
To that end, Rodgers struck a conciliatory tone yesterday.‘We speak regularly with Raheem and I just see him work and work well,’ Rodgers said.‘He’s been injured and there is probably a bit of frustration there because he’s not been totally clear and he’s a boy who just loves to play, train and be on the field.
‘You have seen what can happen with players and representatives, but I can only speak openly and honestly with Raheem. He has made it clear he is happy and hopefully he can do his talking on the field.‘My concentration is on working with the player. He is a young man. He has had trauma in his life and he is a tough boy and you see that in how he plays, but he is still very young. He still needs guidance and help — that is pretty clear.’ – Daily Mail
Original source: Sterling should count himself lucky