The Twitter message from Jamie Carragher to Raheem Sterling’s agent was clear: “Shut up feeding stories about his contract.”
Carragher, the epitome of loyalty during his years at Liverpool, did not specify which agent he was referring to. Sterling is represented by both Rob Segal and Aidy Ward. However, Carragher stated that if his agent had leaked a story that he was unhappy with the terms of his contract just before a match, he would have terminated that relationship immediately.
Yesterday, The Independent on Sunday revealed Sterling is being tracked by, not Real Madrid, but another of the usual suspects whenever more money is demanded – Paris Saint-Germain. The striker’s deal with Liverpool has two years to run and is worth around £43,000 a week. A move to Paris could double that.
The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, has long insisted that young British players – Sterling is still only 19 – should not be given too much too soon.
There is an offer from Liverpool on the table for Sterling’s representatives and, although it may not match the figures he could command in the French or Spanish capitals, Rodgers is confident Anfield offers a better learning environment.
“He still has a lot of growth [in his game] and the best place for him is here,” Rodgers said after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion gave Liverpool their first league win since August. Asked if he was confident Sterling would choose to stay on Merseyside, he replied: “I am absolutely adamant. His agent is a good agent and understands this is the perfect place for him.”
He added: “It is not a big issue for us. Ian Ayre [the Liverpool chief executive] has spoken to his representatives and is quite relaxed. There are no thoughts about anything else other than his continuing to play for Liverpool.”
Saturday did not see Sterling at his best. There was plenty of endeavour and a deflected shot that almost broke the deadlock before Adam Lallana opened his Liverpool account. But too often the ball was given away or poorly controlled.
“People try to write him off because he is tired,” said Rodgers, whose biggest fear for Sterling is that he will be burned out before his late 20s. “But he put in an incredible shift. He had moments, of course, where he gave the ball away but he persevered. He is going to have good games and games where is not going to set the world alight.”
Apart from the odd firework, it is quite a while since Mario Balotelli set anything alight and, after a nondescript performance against Basel in the Champions League, the “calculated risk” began this game from the bench. He came on when Jordan Henderson – the man of this particular match – had put Liverpool 2-1 up and Balotelli rarely threatened to extend the scoreline during his half-hour on the pitch.
One tactic Rodgers used to bolster Balotelli’s self-belief was to push Steven Gerrard up from his now customary position in the heart of midfield to the more attacking role he played in his pomp.
“I felt his ability to combine with Balotelli might have helped us,” said Rodgers. “It was refreshing to see that cleverness. Stevie is a player who makes the game look simple and Mario knows he is playing with one of the greats of the game.”
When Liverpool next line up, at Queen’s Park Rangers on 19 October, Daniel Sturridge will almost certainly be leading the attack, with Gerrard in midfield. Where Balotelli starts is anyone’s guess.
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