Is Sterling worth the money?


Raheem Sterling

It’s been an eventful week for English football’s brightest prospect. After registering his first international goal in England’s comfortable 4-0 victory over Lithuania, speculation regarding his Liverpool future continued to circulate feverishly. The Daily Mail, amongst other papers, reported Sterling had turned down an astronomical deal from Liverpool worth £180,000-a-week.

On Wednesday, BBC Sport released an exclusive interview with the player, in which he confirmed he had refused an offer worth £100,000-a-week, and stated his wish not to be perceived as a “money grabbing 20 year old”.

This begs a couple of questions; firstly, are Sterling’s actions justified? And secondly, is this isolated case reflective of a wider societal issue?

Let’s start with question one. Sterling is one of Liverpool’s most promising players. He is a dynamic, tireless runner who can change a game in an instant. His potential is unquestionable.

It is here, however, the dichotomy emerges. Liverpool, correctly, view Sterling as a young player with huge potential, but also with a lot to learn, and as such should be rewarded with a contract reflecting this. Sterling, or more accurately his representatives/agent, who must be responsible for bringing this story to media attention, seem to believe he’s the finished article.

Sterling is a long way from being a complete, top-class player. He has not had a magnificent season analogous to the one which persuaded Barcelona to spend £75million on Luis Suarez. Although he is currently Liverpool’s joint top scorer, his statistics (6 goals this Premier League season) are adequate but not sensational. Certainly, they are not enough to justify the sort of colossal wage figures being quoted in the press.

In fact, Sterling risks seriously alienating himself from Liverpool supporters if contract wranglings continue to be played out via the media. BBC columnist Phil McNulty accurately highlighted that whilst Sterling is liked by many of the Anfield faithful, he is not yet loved. Many supporters feel that if £100,000-a-week is not enough to persuade him to stay, and significant funds could be raised by his sale, then parting company may be in the best interest of all involved. There will never be one player bigger than Liverpool Football Club.

For me, this situation is symptomatic of a wider societal problem. It epitomises the mainstream cultural narrative pedalled to young people today that the indefinite chasing of material wealth is the solution to our problems, it reflects the controlling in society of the talented by the talentless, and it personifies the celebration of individualism at the expense of the collectivist approach which brought such success to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool teams of the late 60s and 70s.

At Liverpool, Sterling has everything a young footballer could dream of. He has a manager who believes in him and is willing to build a team around him. He is part of a vibrant, youthful squad re-establishing itself as a significant force in English football. And he also has the opportunity to become the next cult hero in a city where, as the great Shankly once said, football is “much more important” than a mere matter of life and death. How many more doors in life open themselves to a person earning £200,000-a-week rather than £100,000? There must come a point where this perennial cycle of pecuniary pursuit becomes meaningless.

If Raheem Sterling does sign a new contract at Liverpool this summer, and in the process perhaps turns down more financially appealing packages from richer clubs, it will be not only the right decision for him but also for mainstream British youth culture. It would advocate that decision-making by young people can be based on other factors aside from sheer financial incentive, on more meaningful sentiments such as trust, loyalty and community, notions you can’t necessarily put a price on.

Photograph: wikipedia

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