Arsenal vs Liverpool: Oh My God! Forget the election, Raheem Sterling has just said something bland...

Tom Peck: Football, like politics, is all about what Sterling didn't say

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The Independent Football

It is sobering to think that they are probably not yet born, the shimmering young man and woman who will take the central roles in Pirks/Sterling, the now inevitable Hollywood dramatisation of what was quite possibly the most explosive sporting interview of the last few days.

That movie, we hope, will not overlook the predictable knee-jerk efforts of the Establishment, of politicians and the media, as they have sought desperately to refocus the attention of the nation on such parochial matters as who might form the next government, to distract us from the fundamental question of just what is going on with the contract negotiations of Liverpool Football Club’s dynamic young False-9-cum-wing-back.

Obviously, it hasn’t worked. Pirks/Sterling was dynamite. Yes, if you watch the BBC’s “unsanctioned interview” (both Sterling and Iran, it is now clear, must be sanctioned), it is not immediately obvious, in 27 long and deeply, deeply tedious minutes, quite where the dynamite goes off. But the three full days of breathless analysis that have followed show clearly that it did.

Next time such an incident occurs, we hope Pirks and the BBC sports department might borrow a trick from their mates doing the leaders’ debates, who have now stopped pretending that the “Spin Room” isn’t where the real action is, and broadcast live from there too. Now, football, like politics, is all about what Raheem Sterling didn’t say, why he didn’t say it, what he did say when he didn’t say it, and why what looked at first like a rather innocuous assertion, that he’d rather wait until the end of the season to discuss his contract, was nothing of the sort.

 

Of course, you don’t have to have a BTEC in Media Studies to realise that when a football player takes it upon himself to call in the TV cameras and reel off the usual platitudes about not being “a money-grabber” it carries a different meaning to when he is forced to reel them off with the sweat of the match still fresh on his brow, as part of his employer’s contract with the broadcasters.

And, probably, we should sympathise with all the Liverpool-supporting football writers who have called what to the naked ear sounds like a full half-hour of unmitigated tedium “outrageous” and “offensive” and “disgusting” and “deplorable” and much more besides.

Yes, it must be deeply annoying, for Liverpool fans of a certain age, to part with more and more of your disposable income each year to stand on The Kop, where the glorious past feels ever more distant, emptying your shallow pockets out into the seemingly bottomless pit of wealth before you and getting less and less enjoyment in return. Then along comes Sterling, following his agent’s instructions, ogling for more.

But even so, of all the mutations that vast wealth has wrought on the game, this Mandelsonisation of football is among the most damaging. The positioning, the gesturing, the strategising and most corrosively of all, the public having so obviously wised up to it.

Twenty years ago, before football had devoured the whole sporting pasture, back when most kids in the playground could actually name a few sprinters or cricketers or rugby players, footballers’ contract negotiations simply didn’t matter. It is grim to wonder what heroic sporting endeavours have gone unnoticed as we obsess about a rogue football chinwag.

Is it possible that football could ever fully catch up with politics on the path of cynicism down which it now marches? At a time when much of the nation is having to reach deep within themselves to try to find a reason to care about a single word that any of its wannabe leaders has to say, it is worth not taking the risks too lightly.

We don’t have to allow ourselves to be used as a refractive mirror, to bend the arc of Raheem Sterling and his agent’s enrichment towards a brighter future. We could just turn our backs, or turn over the TV, and find something more interesting to watch.

The very real dangers of celebrating goals on Fifa 15

It is pleasing to note such weariness has not yet infected an Argentinian striker by the name of Thomas Conechny, who faces a race to get fit in time for the Under-17 World Championship in October, having sprained both ankles and suffered “heavy bruising” falling out of a 10ft window in Paraguay, midway through an overly exuberant goal celebration playing Fifa 15 on the Xbox.

Most footballers are already banned from high-risk recreational activities such as skiing and motorbiking. If Conechny’s mishap should add video games to the list he can expect to make some powerful enemies within the sport.

Unconcerned with such matters here, we merely applaud him.

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