Liverpool's Raheem Sterling speaks out on his contract talks – is he greedy?
LIVERPOOL youngster Raheem Sterling has given an exclusive interview to the BBC that will no doubt add to the controversy surrounding the current standoff between the player and the club over a possible new contract.
Sterling’s current contract has plenty of time left on it but it’s a £30k-£35k per week contract that reflects his standing at the time he signed it, as a teenager with much still to prove.
Having turned 20 in December he now expects a better deal, but his expectations of what he’s worth seem to exceed the club’s and the talks have been put on hold until the end of the season.
At least that’s how his expectations seem to have been portrayed on social media and in the gossip columns. This was his chance to put his side across. Why had he put his contract talks on hold, why had he rejected so many offers?
The interview included a couple of questions about England and Liverpool’s chances of making up for the ground lost on Manchester United after the recent defeat, but most of it was about Sterling’s future and how he feels about playing for Liverpool now and after the end of this season.
It’s a long interview and the chances are unless you sit down to watch it you’ll only get to read snippets of it, so here’s the biggest part of what he said, in context.
On being asked to play a deeper role in the current system than the kind of attacking role his reputation was forged on, Sterling said: “As a player you’re going to do the best for the team and if the manager asks you to play in a more defensive role then you’ve got to do the job for the team and that’s the most important thing for me, to always try and help the team, and that’s no different.
“I’ve tried to do my best and it’s not my most comfortable position but as I said before I try to help the team in any shape or form so that’s purely how I look at things, but I’m more of an attacking player so when I’m a bit further back the pitch it’s different for me because it’s not something I’ve been doing when I was younger and youth.
“It’s a bit different but as I said I always try to do the best for the team.”
Sterling was asked if the manager had explained to him why he was playing in this more defensive role: “Obviously we’ve got great players, good players, up front, obviously Dan (Daniel Sturridge) coming back in the team and Ads (Adam Lallana) and Philippe (Coutinho) doing really well and I think it was just another chance to fit everyone in the team and obviously someone’s got to get sacrificed to be in the more defensive positions.
“So I just think it’s the manager using his experience in the game and just trying to fit everyone in, for the best of the team, but as I said I will do my best for the team if that means playing at wing-back.”
Ultimately though, he wants to be up front? “Yes,” he replied, “Everyday going into training that’s what I train to do, to be up front – taking players on, trying to assist and score goals.
“Ultimately that’s where I see myself.
“As I said before though, if it’s for the team I don’t mind helping out.”
When Sterling was asked if he had any problems with comments Brendan Rodgers had made in the press recently he made it clear there wasn’t an issue at all: “I haven’t looked at anything bad to say or think about Brendan, he’s been really good to me since I come into the team and he’s always tried to help me. I don’t see anything bad I just always try to give my opinion and he gives his opinion.”
“As a ten year old I’ve always loved to play football and to hear some of the comments – not saying Brendan said the comments but obviously the fans and the public, the general public – saying I’m a greedy boy to reject such a huge contract but as a ten year old this is what I’ve wanted to do, to play football at the highest level, and that’s what I want to keep doing in my career.
“Every time I finish a game it’s about the contract, every time I score a goal it’s about the contract.
“I’ve still got two years left on my contract and it’s not the end of the world at this moment in time. I’ve still got time before the contract is finished so I really just want to focus on playing football. I don’t want every time I finish a game my contract comes up, I tried to kill it off, but I don’t think the public can see it that way I think they just see it as this 20 year old boy being greedy.
But I just want to take the time to think about what I have achieved in my career so far and where I need to go and what I need to do to get better as a player and that’s been no different for me from a ten year old to a 15 year old coming up on the train with my mum and agent at 15 to see where my next part of my career is going when I was coming to Liverpool so the most importan thing for me is to just keep my focus, not really listen to what’s being said, I know what I have planned for myself on personal terms where I want to be in the next five to ten years and that’s been no different from day one. I’ll just keep doing what I need to do on the pitch and hopefully I can reach where I need to go.
Then the big question. “You were offered a deal worth £100k per week. Why did you turn that down?”
Sterling took a second, before replying: “Obviously it’s flattering to get such a huge contract. No one when I started out at QPR would have dreamed of this day, to be fair, to have such a huge offer in front of me and I’m really thankful for everyone around me and the club for offering me such a good contract.
“But, at this moment in time, as I said before, I think it’s all been about the contract and I just want to focus on my football right now and trying to help the club get to the final of the FA Cup. We’ve got the FA Cup coming up and I just need to singly focus on football at this moment in time.
“I don’t want everything to be about this contract.
“I just want to finish as high as possible in the table with Liverpool – that’s been the focus from the start of the season, before there were contract talks, and I want to win something at the end of the season and the FA Cup’s a great chance so hopefully we can go away to Blackburn and get a good result and go from there.
“As I said I really just want to focus on football and keep going.”
Sterling was asked if it was true that there isn’t a figure Liverpool could offer him now that would make him sign before the end of the season: “Yes – as I said before it’s not about the money at all, it’s not about the money at all.
“I just want to focus on football and really when it gets to the end of the season assess my position where I am as a 20 year old football player playing in the Premier League and I just want to see where I need to be to achieve my goals that I’ve set out from a young kid.”
Asked about recent comments from Jamie Carragher, who said Raheem was in danger of having the fans turn against him, the player said: “You hear, you see, I don’t really read into it as much but you see little things, you get little munch screens or someone sending it to you on Whats App and to be fair everyone’s got their own opinion.
“I’m sure Jamie when he started out playing for Liverpool he had his dreams and hopes and I’m no different I’m a young kid with dreams and hopes so he’s entitled to his opinion and at the end of the day I know what I want from my career and I’m sure he did when he was roughly the same age as me.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and I don’t think any differently of Jamie, I’ve known him from when he was at Liverpool and he’s a great lad and I don’t see no different I just think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and at the end of the day I’m just singly focussed on my career and what’s best for me and what I need to do in my career.”
What would Raheem say to those fans who perhaps see him as wanting “a shed load” of money for playing football? “What I could say to these fans is that’s not me at all.
“Money is not everything in my life, I’ve got family, I adore my mum, (she’s) been there for me throughout my life, my daughter now who’s two going on three and these people mean everything to me and never once in my life – I think everyone around me can vouch for me – has ever been about money.
“I talk about winning trophies throughout your career that’s what I talk about. I don’t talk about how many cars I’m going to drive, houses I’ve got, I just purely want to be the best that I can be and with the people around me I’m just grateful.
“I don’t want to be perceived as a money-grabbing 20 year old I just want to be seen as the kid who loves to play football and wants to do the best for the team. I would never like the fans to think bad of me, to think I just want as much money for myself.
“I just want them to understand that it’s been a bit much for me this season with everyone talking about it every minute and I just want to get through the season helping this football club to the best we can do and hopefully at the end of the season be proud of what we’ve achieved.”
What if he’d been offered a new deal towards the end of last season, when Liverpool looked like they might win the league? “If, at that point in time, I was offered a contract, I most definitely would have signed straight away, probably for far less money than being said now. I just think the timing was a bit off.”
Is the decision not to sign now ultimately about ambition? Suarez left, Gerrard’s leaving, the Champions League didn’t go well and the league wasn’t won as he thought it looked like it was going to be: “I think the club’s got good ambition. Last season was a really good season, obviously a disappointing end as I said before.
“Obviously then Gerrard leaving, Suarez leaving, does put a dent in the team definitely, because these are two world class players, but as I said before we’ve got players who are coming up and hopefully they can emulate what Luis and Steven have done throughout their career. But definitely to push and see where we can go from here.”
Is the club a good place for you to stay? “Yes, definitely,” Sterling said.
“The structure at the club is great for young players, the manager is great for young players, he helped me come through, he’s had a lot of trust in me, put a lot of faith in me and played me week in week out and not afraid to throw me in at the deep end when the time was right.
“Against Man City he made me play from the start, now Jordan (Ibe) has been thrown in, Lazar (Markovic) is the same age as me, he’s bought Lazar, he’s a manager that has faith in a lot of young players.
“It’s a credit to him, but as I said I’ve got dreams and hopes as well, it’s purely about enjoying my football and trying to win things with Liverpool as well.”
Does it bother Sterling that people out there, who don’t really know him, just see him as greedy? “Yes, obviously, if you turn down the offer that’s been said out in the public they just think you just want more and that’s not my case at this moment in time.
“I just want people to realise that just because I don’t do loads of interviews, I just like to keep myself to myself, I like having a quiet time with my family and friends and that’s just me, I’m not really a person that wants to be on everyone’s TV and computer screens that I’m demanding a hundred and whatever, I’m just a kid that loves playing football that’s how it’s been from since I’ve been a young kid and I’ve never ever wanted to demand anything off no one I’m just trying to demand the best for me and where I want my career to be.”
With Sterling being linked to various other clubs on the back pages and in the transfer gossip columns he was asked if he had a clear idea of where he wanted to be next season. From what he said in response, it sounds like it’s still Anfield: “I think yes, in my head, I think I’ve sat down and thought about it and I said at the end of the season I’d just like to sit down with the club and my representatives – at the end of the season.
“I just want to kind of put it to the side and, as I said, just concentrate on my football because it’s a bit too much, as I said, it keeps getting brought up, any little thing I’m doing I can’t really… it’s not really making me think the best I can, I just want to concentrate on football and do the best that I can for the team and that’s all it’s been from the start of the season as well.”
Sterling was then asked if the contract talks had got into his head, along with playing at wing back, and affected his form. “It all adds up,” he said. “Obviously the fans are a bit frustrated at me for not signing straight away and they probably can get on your back a bit but that’s football and you’ve got to accept these things but I just want to say it is a bit frustrating to be seen in that way.
“I’ve always tried to give my best for Liverpool and tried to do my best and it can get a bit much when everyone’s on your back a little bit and it can affect you a little bit as well.
“I try to completely block it out of my head and that’s the whole reason why I have said I’d like to wait until the end of the season and speak from there because I’ll be off from football and I concentrate purely on speaking about the contract.”
As for playing abroad, and whether he could speak Spanish: “No, I’ve never had any Spanish lessons at all but everyone growing up’s dream is seeing themselves in an away kit somewhere in a sunny country but I’m in reality now and happy to be playing for Liverpool and trying to win trophies for Liverpool.”
Liverpool play Arsenal next, one of a number of those clubs linked with Sterling in those gossip columns, so does he find it flattering to be linked with clubs “of that calibre”?
“Yes, definitely it’s quite flattering, which for me it’s quite flattering, but I try to just block everything out of my head I just want to keep playing football and doing well in my next game and my next game is against Arsenal and I’ll be trying to do the best I can do against Arsenal, I won’t be hiding nothing about that. As I said I’m just happy to be playing football and I just want to do my best against Liverpool.”
Why did Sterling feel it was important to speak out today? “Because personally I keep hearing I’ve rejected all sorts of contracts and obviously if I’ve put all contract talk until the end of the season I’m just… I’ve heard I’ve rejected another two contracts!
“Well I just wanted to say if I’ve already put the talks off until the end of the season there’s no way I could have rejected this contract again, because me, the club and my representatives have spoken about it, that we’ll put contract talks until the end of the season and it’s obviously frustrating to keep hearing the contract situation keep going on and on when we’ve already spoke about it as a club and the player as well.
“We’ve spoken about it and that was put to bed and now we keep hearing I’ve rejected again so it’s a bit frustrating keep hearing and I just wanted to get my point across on it all today.”
Again, Sterling was asked: Is there no amount the club could put on the table today that would make you sign before the end of the season? “No, no amount. Strictly football until the end of the season and go from there definitely.”
What would Sterling’s message be to fans right now? “That I’m a 20 year old with a dream,” he said, “From when I started out at QPR and on my way to Liverpool and I just want them to know that my focus is on football, trying to do the best I can for this football club.”
What would he to fans asking if he will still be a Liverpool player in June? “That nothing’s changed from my thinking from when I had the conversation with the manager and I will definitely give guarantees when this season has finished as I have tried to get across and just try to focus on my football until then and I’ll definitely give guarantees at the end of the season.”
And on the criticism he’s received from various pundits? “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, I’d just like to say it’s my career and I want the best for me and I want to reach my goals that I set out as a young kid. That’s been no different to them and they’ve had their dreams when they were playing and that’s no different for me and I’ve got my dreams.
“At the end of the day everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I won’t really take any notice of what they’re saying and just singly focus on what’s best for me.”