Saturday, June 19, 2021
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How not to leave a football club

Sterling at Manchester City (courtesy of Daily Mirror)The last week has seen two protracted transfers go through, and both have left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth for varying reasons. There are no prizes for guessing that the deals referred to are those for Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph, but it is frustrating to see how these former crowd favourites have soured their relationships with Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively.

To say that the transfer of Sterling to Manchester City has dragged is to put it mildly, but then we should be thankful that it's been finalised before August. Go back to February, and Brendan Rodgers reacted to questions over a new contract for the winger by saying that he'd been offered an "incredible deal". This was followed in March by news that the contract negotiations were now on hold until the end of the season.

The problems really began when Sterling decided to grant the BBC an interview on April 1st. His intention was to prove to everyone that he's not a "money-grabbing 20 year old", but the fall-out confirmed that the tactic was misguided. Rodgers criticised the player's advisors, namely Aidy Ward, a man who succeeded in honing an obnoxious persona following his notorious interview with the Evening Standard.

Things then quietened down until last month, when Manchester City finally made their first bid of £30m and instigated the inevitable haggling between clubs. As negotiations continued, there was little doubt that Raheem Sterling wanted out of Liverpool, despite countless pleas from former players and most notably Steven Gerrard.

The final price of £44m (which may rise to £49 based upon add-ons), tells you how highly Sterling is rated, but of course this is a calculated gamble by Manchester City, as he's far from justified the cost at this point in his career. That being said, I don't adhere to the idea that football players should be criticised for the size of their transfer fee. This is a nonsense as they play virtually no part in setting that agenda.

Instead the criticism of Sterling is in the way that he's handled himself over the last few months. In the week leading up to his transfer last Tuesday, he was reported to have called in sick for training and to have stated that he wouldn't be joining Liverpool's pre-season tour.

Some people will say that he's a young man who makes mistakes. Fair enough, we all do that, but he's old enough to have a child and he's old enough to know the difference between being dignified or juvenile. Football has seen millions of transfers over the decades that have avoided comparisons with a messy divorce, and it is a shame that Sterling has tarnished the memories of his performances for the majority of Liverpool fans.

In fact Sterling himself admitted earlier today that he is "disappointed with how it was left" when regarding his move from Liverpool. However, it's hard to fathom exactly what he means by that without further explanation. His former club clearly wanted to keep him, so perhaps it is the case that Sterling realises that the affair should have been dealt with more amicably, either that or he's hurting from how his reputation has suffered. England fans will just hope that he progresses as expected and doesn't spend too much time on the bench in his new surroundings.

As for Fabian Delph and his on-off-on move to Manchester City? We simply have to recap on the statement that he issued 1 week ago, because if this doesn't represent a man who has no grasp on his real convictions, I don't know what does:

July 11th 2015:

"I'm aware there has been intense media speculation surrounding my future in the last 24 hours and I want to set the record straight.

"I'm not leaving. I'm staying at the football club and I can't wait for the start of the season and captaining this great football club."

Seems pretty clear cut doesn't it, in fact it was almost refreshing to hear. And then yesterday, a mere 6 days later, the press picked up on the fact that he had now been spotted going for a medical and that the deal was back on. By late afternoon all was agreed and Delph had moved for a relative snip at £8m.

His former manager Paul Lambert told BBC Radio 5 Live that, Fabian "had every right to change his mind". And yes, that's perfectly reasonable, but that's not putting the story into it's full context. Rather, the England international put out a definitive answer to the transfer speculation around him and then did a complete about-turn in less than a week. It's as if he went out of his way to wind-up the Aston Villa fans, especially since his subsequent statement only confirms his indecisiveness. As a result he deserves the ridicule that he's getting right now.

Obviously Sterling and Delph are not the first and will be far from the last players to make a PR disaster out of moving clubs. In the past footballers have criticised their former fans (Sami Nasri), or tried to instigate a riot through a goal celebration (Emmanuel Adebayor). Judging by my examples you may think that moving to Manchester City does something to the mindset of their players, but this is just an unfortunate coincidence.

Sadly there will always be a few idiotic fans that reacts to these things in an inappropriate fashion (see social media abuse for example), but the majority of football fans respect those that play for their club and recognise when to look at the bigger picture. If football players could learn to be completely honest about the transfer market and their motives, then it's possible that they'd avoid ruining relationships through ambivalence.

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