Brendan Rodgers has warned Raheem Sterling's agent not to exploit the teenager's breakthrough by making excessive financial demands. The Liverpool manager is adamant that huge contracts, awarded too early to young footballers, are one of the principal reasons why they do not fulfil their potential.
Rodgers was especially anxious when, in the afterglow of a stunning performance in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City, Sterling was drafted into the England squad for the World Cup qualifier with Ukraine.
"After I spoke to Roy Hodgson and Raheem, my next call was to his agent," Rodgers said. "I wanted him to be aware that this news was coming out and that, when it did, he wasn't jumping in the car up to Liverpool to have a chat with me.
"I want to manage the expectations of the kid. The last thing we need is Sky Sports coming up with a yellow bar saying he has signed a five-year contract after playing two games."
The Ulsterman's concern is that any lucrative new contract, based on the flimsy evidence of a couple of electric performances, might simply dull Sterling's ambition. "There has been dialogue between me and him – and that has been it," he said when asked if there had been any contract talks. "There has been dialogue between me and his agent to let him know where we are at.
"He is only 17 and doesn't turn 18 until December. But I have seen it so much with young players. You see these young boys play one or two games, they get handed these super-duper contracts and it goes downhill from there.
"When they reach 22 or 23 years of age, you hear people ask: 'What has happened to so and so?' The biggest thing that distorts the reality of footballers is money. If we are going to help young footballers, you have to protect them and not give them big contracts.
"I worked with players at Swansea who had spent their lives in football and never earned more than two grand a week. They were at the end of their careers and had played 400-odd games. Now you are seeing young players who are multi-millionaires and, no matter what you say, it takes the edge off them.
"It is about consistency. I have given him a chance. What I want to see is if he can become consistent with it. If you can be consistent with the chance you get, you will be rewarded for it. That is important."
Off the field, Sterling is managed by Rob Segal and Aidy Ward, highly respected agents who number Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain among their clients. Nevertheless, there has been tension between the club and Sterling's "people", most notably in March when "sources" let it be known that Sterling was unhappy with his lack of playing opportunities on Merseyside and was considering a return to London.
The response of the then Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, was to the point. Sterling, he said, should do his talking on the pitch and not in the newspapers.
Rodgers has certainly talked tough to the young forward. On Liverpool's pre-season tour of America, he was filmed berating Sterling, saying that he would "be on the next plane home" if he did not improve his work and attitude.
"Over the course of the pre-season I wasn't harsh with him but he had to learn," said Rodgers. "You try to improve young players not just technically but tactically as well. You could see Raheem against Manchester City when they were playing 3-5-2.
"The idea of a young player making his debut in a game like that is phenomenal but to have to play against a system you are not used to – well, that is difficult. He was playing against Kolo Touré; he had to know when to stay and when to press. But one of the biggest things that has come out has been his ability to learn. If he continues in that vein, he will have a terrific career."Reuse content