By Ernie Fox
Agents and the balance of power. It could be the title of one of this summer’s box office epics, a further spin off from the ever increasing Marvel superhero franchise. I may even consider it as a title for my follow up novel to My Life in Red & White – due for publication this summer!!!
But aside from the shameless self promotion, there is a serious point to the title; since agents have become ever more embroiled in the game, the summer mayhem that embarks from the opening of the transfer window bares an uncanny resemblance to the destruction and carnage that results from these multi-million pound blockbusters and with as similarly ludicrous budgets.
Let’s be frank, this is an article for Liverpool fans so we are talking primarily about Raheem Sterling. This year should have been his year, no doubts about it, we lost a world class talent in Lusi Suarez during last summer, and the (effectively) season long injury to Daniel Sturridge was a double blow. But despite losing 52 league goals from our starting 11 we still had one superb young superstar who had been very much a part of the attacking trio that had pushed us so close to Premier League glory in 2014.
This was Sterling’s opportunity to take up the gauntlet of leading from the front line. There are uncanny resemblances to a young Michael Owen who entered the side at such a young age and became an instant success. True, Sterling is regarded primarily as a winger as opposed to a centre forward, but his lightning pace, fearless displays and willingness to take on some of the country’s biggest and best centre halves along with surprising strength for such a small physique do tend to draw certain comparisons.
Michael Owen himself could have been a true Liverpool legend, as a young Steven Gerrard was developing in the middle of the park, Owen was firing in two sublime strikes in the FA Cup final against Arsenal. But the temptation of Madrid was too much for Owen and he departed in the summer of 2004 missing out on being part of the Champions League success less than 12 months later. Does anybody recall what happened to his career from there? A number of injuries later and Owen did eventually return to England and even picked up a Premier League winner’s medal, but whereas Gerrard departs with his held high and a final game in which the Anfield faithful were devoted to giving him the best possible send off, Owen’s career seemed to just fizzle out.
Returning to Sterling, throughout the season Rodgers has shown a willingness to give him the chance to lead the line – perhaps out of necessity as much as anything – but with the likes of Balotelli, Borini and Lambert on the sidelines Sterling was shown a great deal of confidence in his ability for such a young player. Maybe it was naive thinking from the manager to think that such a young lad could effectively take over the mantle of one of the best strikers in world football, but up to recently, Sterling had shown an appetite for rising to the occasion.
It is my considered opinion that what followed was not down to lack of ability or experience. The Sterling that shone so brightly last year has been absent for a great deal of the season, ever since rumours of his contract negotiations began to circulate. The Sterling we saw on Saturday was a shadow of the figure that had burst onto the scene so gloriously.
No matter where you look, the majority of experts will say that Sterling’s career would benefit most from remaining at Anfield for the foreseeable future, there is surely some level of turth in what they say, but it seems that Sterling’s head has already been turned. But who protects the young players from such temptations and distractions? By definition agents are there to provide players with an element of strength when negotiating with the club’s officials, but who is there to support a player against the agent themselves?
In the long term Sterling will do well to continue his development at Liverpool, I have no doubts. He is far from the complete player, however he has established himself as a first tem player in the side, the style of play at Anfield also suits a player of his abilities and will help to bring out the best in him, but that may not be the best option for his agent. He is likely to receive a much more sizable sum by masterminding a huge transfer for his client in the summer; who cares if Sterling arrives at a new side and spends the next five years on the substitutes bench? There is always the possibility that Sterling will pick up an injury wherever he is and then the reward for the agent’s investment of time and energy will have depreciated in monetary value significantly unless he makes the deal when and where he can.
The fact is that unless a player has a very strong support network behind him, an agent can easily persuade him of decisions that may be far more in favour of the agent than his client. After all, who is there to fight the player’s corner? Who is there thinking of the player’s long term future? For an agent, players will come and go, there will be another Raheem Sterling or Saido Berahino. The important thing is to strike whilst the iron is hot, because anything can happen in football, one need only consider the rapidly depreciating value of Radamel Falcao to realise that.
Jordan Ibe recently stated that he left such negotiations to his mum, sure she may not be experienced in getting the best for her son in terms of money, but you can be certain that her instinct will be to consider his long term future in all decisions that she makes. For me it’s the most sensible decision, players at such a young age just want to play football, if they’re told they should be getting paid more or that they’re being held back from progressing by their current club, who are they to argue?
It would be a great shame if Sterling chose to push through a move away from Liverpool in the summer, but judging from recent performances more so for Sterling himself than Liverpool. Ambition doesn’t just mean looking for as much money as you can get, for a player it can mean trying to reach the highest performance levels, honing your skills to the best of your ability. Could anyone say that a player who wishes to remain at Anfield, and try to replicate what Steven Gerrard achieved during his time at the club is lacking ambition?
Steven Gerrard, with one final game left in his Liverpool career has shown just what can be achieved if you have the will power, determination, drive and ability to make it happen. Michael Owen has a Premier League winners’ medal, the one thing that alluded Gerrard, but Gerrard wrote himself into the history books and hearts of every Liverpool fan; his send off was incredible, matching the scale of anything I have ever seen for a single player – and thoroughly deserved.
This isn’t a criticism of Raheem Sterling, perhaps all the talk of him looking for a club is nothing more than rumour and speculation, possibly his agent is attempting to get him a better deal; but there is no denying that in recent weeks he has looked distracted and completely out of sorts. Is that not the role of the agent? To prevent such things from disrupting their client’s mental state, as opposed to sticking them into uncomfortable television interviews and riling the fans he should be elating with his performances on the pitch?
Agents have a role to play in football, no doubt about that, but at present they have too much power. They should be there to ensure clubs don’t take advantage of young, naive players; but instead they take it upon themselves to gamble with careers like a deck of cards looking to make the biggest amount of money for themselves. With any luck Raheem Sterling will make the right decision for himself; in my opinion that would be to stay at Liverpool, but whatever he chooses let’s hope it is for genuine footballing reasons and not money. He is a very talented, young player, it will be a shame to see him as just another wasted hopeful who languishes away in the reserves for some huge European entity.
Written by Ernie Fox