by Tony Attwood
Selling players who we would rather like to keep is something that Arsenal became fairly familiar with during the years of paying for the new stadium. However that Liverpool, who have only just embarked on upgrading Anfield for a cost of around £114m, adding 8000 new seats, and yet are embroiled in such painful situations suggests a discontent a little deeper.
Of course none of us will know exactly what is going on with the likes of Raheem Sterling but the fact that he and his manager Brendan Rodgers are at loggerheads seems fairly clear.
The problem however also seems to have been exacerbated with the statement (or maybe alleged statement) by Brendan Rodgers that Sterling will stay put at Liverpool even if he refuses to sign a new contract. This would mean that Liverpool would lose out on the transfer fee, and of course ferment discontent in the camp.
Holding onto a player who wants to go, in the last year of his contract is a difficult matter, and I suspect Mr Rodgers has not actually listened to any legal advice on the matter (or if he has then suggests Liverpool needs a new legal department as well as a new set of players). Indeed his statement seems to have all the hallmarks of the work of the Liverpool’s principal owner John Henry, who had a history of making flamboyant statements during and after the Suarez vapour transfer to Arsenal.
Rodgers has regularly said Sterling will not be sold this summer despite his rejection of a new contract. Then he upped the game by saying the player will stay on £35,000-a-week for the rest of his period with Liverpool, rather than sell him if there is no agreement.
Of course the player himself could resolve this by signing, but if he doesn’t, he will be able to turn to the EU wide ruling of 30 January 2008 in which the Court of Arbitration in Sport issued a landmark judgement meaning that players cannot be held to their contracts for more than three years. (As a side note, for players who sign their contracts after their 28th birthday that comes down to two years).
This was a factor in the transfer of Cesc Fabregas so that he could be re-united with his DNA, and with Robin Van Persie. As Tony Higgins of Fifpro, the European players’ union said at the time, “The Webster case allows players, after a set period of time and if they so wish, to decide who their future employer will be. We now have a degree of certainty about what the value in question will be. Clubs have to re-evaluate their strategies in dealing with players on long-term contracts. If they are on four- or five-year contracts and fall into the relevant age bracket, clubs may now have to renegotiate after two years.”
Liverpool FC can’t be so silly as to not know this, any more than John Henry didn’t know about the buy out clause in Suarez’ contract (as he fully admitted in February 2014), so most of what we are seeing must be bluff, and Sterling knows perfectly well this is so.
The reason Liverpool are playing the game this way is twofold. One because John Henry likes the Big Man style (as revealed in his openness about “tricking” Arsenal by lying to the media) and the other because they believed that Sterling would not want to lose out on the extra money they are offering him.
Given that Sterling has rejected £65,000-a-week pay rise offer that was made after he turned down the original offers, this means Sterling has lost £1m in money, and Liverpool have saved £1m in cash that would otherwise have gone 50% to the player and 50% to Revenue and Customs.
But that is past, and Sterling could easily force the issue this summer by invoking the CAS ruling. That would not only be ok for him, but also be a disaster for Liverpool who would lose a player they want to keep, and show to the footballing world that they really don’t know what the law in Europe says these days.
“We’ve made our position clear from the beginning and the owners are very much supportive of that. Raheem won’t be going anywhere this summer, even if there’s not a deal agreed,” said the manager – which actually means, “even if we are going to refuse to abide by EU law.” Liverpool do lots of funny stuff, but this one seems unlikely.
Rodgers argument that, “We’ll just be reinforcing our stance that’s been in place all along – that this is the best club for him at this moment where he’s got the opportunity to play and to fight and be competitive,” doesn’t hold too much water given not just the recent decline in their playing ability but also the wild claims that have been made about Liverpool’s progress of late.
Rodgers also made a lot of the fact that he has had his player around to his house for a chat. That (getting the player round to one’s house) may or may not be a good move, but revealing what was talked about may not have been the best ploy. Comments such as, “It’s not just football; it’s parenting as well, helping him and making sure everything is all right outside of his football,” suggest that the player is looking for a father figure, and whether that is true or not, it may not be something he wants to have aired in public.
It is always tempting to think that Liverpools problem is the signings – and to some extent that is true, but it is also the image that the club is developing through seeming to allow people like Rodgers and Henry to say what they like, without thought of the consequences that is doing the most damage. Agents know about the CAS rulings and European Law, just as they knew that Henry lied about Suarez contract – and they advise their clients accordingly. It is not hard to see why Liverpool can’t always buy the player they want.
Indeed the consequences of Henry’s admission that he lied and lied over the Suarez affair are still being felt in the media, and Rodgers may well find that making statements which result in the media running statements like “Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool aiming higher than 4th” as recently as March 16 this year (as ESPN did), or “I think this year we’re up there again among the top two or three” as Sky Sports had him saying, can be a hostage to fortune.
And while you may know that I am not a great believer in what the press has to say on such matters, there is an element of media control that a club can engage in to avoid such gems as,”Liverpool aim for ‘marquee’ transfers” as the Mirror reported a couple of days back. The problem is that last season’s “marquee” transfers did not impress many people and saw Liverpool slip back in the league.
As Arsenal supporters we know exactly what the abuse of Chelsea, Man C and Man U fans feels like as they comment, alongside their pals in the aaa on the long wait for another title since the Unbeaten Season, but with Liverpool the wait is longer – it is now 25 years since they won the league. For a club whose past was all about winning the league all the time, that must hurt.
What Liverpool have to do, in my personal opinion, is stop talking about the past, and reform. Reform meaning, be realistic about what the European laws of sport actually says, while recruiting highly talented young players – some of whom will stay and do well, some of whom will be sold for a profit, some of whom will sadly not make it.
This is a totally different culture from the culture of excuses that some clubs seem to get involved in. And it is a culture that makes signing players even harder than it might otherwise have been.
The problem is that when players and their agents look at places that they might get a job, Liverpool’s recent performances in terms of player recruitment and development don’t give much of a warm feeling.
Every club makes mistakes, and in writing up Arsenal’s history through the Anniversary Files I know that better than most. Making mistakes is not the point – it is the making of mistakes over and over again. All clubs have transfer disasters. But you need some real winners too to retain your credibility.
Oyvind Leonhardsen was indeed not the ‘last piece of the jigsaw’, and El Hadji Diouf did not turn Liverpool into champions. Nor did £35 million for Andy Carroll in 2011. As for Mario Balotelli…
But as I say, Arsenal don’t get it perfectly right. For every Bergkamp, Henry, Ozil and Sanchez there are many players who simply did not live up to expectations. The difference is that they were not all made a hostage to fortune, and the club didn’t engage in the same PR activities that Liverpool do.
The issue is not just that that Liverpool’s transfer record in recent years is poor, for a club to leap into the top four the club needs luck and a brilliant player – as Liverpool themselves proved with Suarez, who for all his moral failings, is a brilliant player. But also it is laughable, as when the club went public on absolutely not signing Balotelli and then signing Balotelli.
But the greatest problem is that if John Henry searches for who is to blame for this situation at Liverpool and then decides to sack them, he would (if he were man enough) have to sack himself.
On the other hand if Rodgers were sacked then, as the Telegraph amusingly put it Liverpool would develop “a new personality issuing uplifting quotes that immediately prompt ridiculously premature comparisons with Bill Shankly. It all looks promising for a while. Then word filters through that the new man thinks all the players he’s been left are hopeless. Before you know you’re back in the realms of five-year plans.
“Then three years pass, those initial encouraging signs and uplifting victories have been forgotten and a sexy name from abroad (who probably has no wish to join, anyway) is available. A dodgy away defeat in Hull or some relegation-haunted venue in 2018 is presented as the tipping point and the wheel turns again.”
Of course when the Telegraph says, “At few other clubs do you go from King to court jester in the space of three games,” they and the rest of the media must take part of the blame. But Liverpool have to do the same, for being a club which, as the Telegraph concluded “feeds narcissism and then accuses those they instantly transformed into Gods of thinking too highly of themselves.”
2 May 1970: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0 ended the league season with Arsenal a disappointing 12th. Extraordinarily, one year and one day later the game was repeated, and the score was repeated, except in reverse as this time Arsenal won the match and the league, and then at the end of the week, the FA Cup.
2 May 1992 Ian Wright hat trick (two in the 90th minute) in the last game in front of the old North Bank. Arsenal won 5-1 against Southampton as Wright beat Lineker to the top scorer spot with 24 league goals. A hardy group stayed on after the match chanting “We’re here to save the North Bank,” as stewards left them to slowly drift away