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    Sunday, 17 July 2022

    Poll: Raheem Sterling has finally paid the price for Liverpool exit - Theo Squires

    Chelsea new boy Raheem Sterling reportedly wanted to re-join Liverpool this summer, seven years on from his unceremonious exit to Manchester City


    ‘Never go back’ as the old saying goes. Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku found this out the hard way last season as their second stints with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively didn’t quite live up to expectations. Yet it appears, according to the latest reports, that Raheem Sterling did not get the memo.

    The England international left Manchester City after seven years at the Etihad earlier this month, moving to Chelsea in a £47.5m transfer. Yet despite his unceremonious exit from Anfield back in 2015, the gossip columns have continued to make Liverpool part of the conversation regarding an unlikely swoop for their former winger.

    It was initially suggested by the Mirror that the Reds had been interested in re-signing Sterling, only for him to opt for a move to Stamford Bridge instead. The Athletic then reported that it was the winger who was open to a Liverpool return, only for such a switch to never materialise ahead of him putting pen to paper at Chelsea.

    And now Jacque Talbot has claimed, when speaking to GiveMeSport , that the 27-year-old indeed wanted to rejoin Jurgen Klopp’s side only to be rejected by the Reds.

    Such a stance should not be a surprise considering, when revamping their attack in 2022, Liverpool brought in 25-year-old Luis Diaz, 23-year-old Darwin Nunez and 19-year-old Fabio Carvalho, while also tying down Mohamed Salah to a new three-year contract. Sticking to their ‘retain and refresh’ strategy, Reds bosses have always looked forward rather than back when it comes to the future of Klopp’s side.

    That’s why there has never been any interest in re-signing the likes of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho or Gini Wijnaldum when they became available, despite reported desires for an Anfield return. Sterling would be no different.

    When links to the winger first emerged earlier this summer, they were quickly dismissed as total nonsense by Anfield bosses. “Where would he play?” was the retort from one club source. Considering the arrivals of Diaz, Nunez and Carvalho to complement Salah, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, and the fact Liverpool would have planned such an attacking revamp months in advance, his simple point was made.

    As a result, it would appear any notion of a fanciful Sterling return to Anfield did not materialise from inside the Reds camp. If from the winger, it does seem a little naive.

    Sterling is a rare commodity when it comes to outgoing Liverpool stars in recent years, in the sense that from all the wantaway idols, desperate to depart for bigger and brighter things on a greater stage, he is one of only a handful to find his new grass actually greener. He won four Premier League titles, four League Cups and the FA Cup with Man City, scoring an impressive 131 goals in 339 appearances to cement his place as one of the best players in English football after all.

    Yet, despite such success, he was never loved at the Etihad to the same extent as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Kevin De Bruyne. As a result, no City tears were shed when he left for title-rivals Chelsea.

    And despite the goals and the trophies in Manchester, Sterling has never hidden his willingness to return to Anfield one day.

    "Would I ever go back to Liverpool? To be honest with you I love Liverpool,” he admitted in an Instagram Q&A in March 2020. "Don’t get it twisted, they are always in my heart. It’s a team that has done a lot for me growing up so…"

    But while Liverpool might be in his heart, the feeling is not mutual. The manner of his exit in 2015 made sure of that.

    The winger’s relationship with Liverpool was damaged beyond repair when the then 20-year-old forced his way out of the club in the summer of 2015 after giving an infamous, unsanctioned interview to BBC Sport in the midst of a controversial contract dispute.

    "If, at that point in time (a year earlier as Liverpool competed for the title in 2013/14), I was offered a contract, I most definitely would have signed straight away,” he said. "Probably for far less money than being said now. I just think the timing was a bit off.

    "It's not about the money at all. It's never been about money. I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That's all I talk about.

    "I try 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. I just want to take the time to think about what I've achieved in my career so far, where I need to go and what I need to do to get better as a player."

    The Reds were said to have been left furious by Sterling's decision to conduct an interview the club knew nothing about, until just moments before it was aired by the BBC. Seemingly seeking to set the record straight about his motivations and rationale ahead of potentially not signing a new contract, his choice of actions, no doubt ill-informed by agent Aidy Ward, appeared to be a well-calculated move.

    Turning down a reported £100k-a-week deal to stay at Anfield, such comments questioning the Reds’ credentials, coming from a boy with less than 100 Premier League appearances to his name, who had only featured six times in the Champions League and was yet to really achieve anything in the game, with no trophies yet won, understandably did not go down well. Then-agent Ward then did not help matters when fanning the flames further prior to Sterling’s eventual exit.

    “I don’t care about the PR of the club and the club situation. I don’t care,” he told the London Evening Standard in May 2015. “He is definitely not signing. He’s not signing for £700, £800, £900 thousand a week. He is not signing.
    “My job is to make sure I do the best with them (my clients). If people say I am bad at my job, or they are badly advised it does not matter.”

    Booed as he collected the club's Young Player of the Year award the same month before being left unused against Stoke City on the last day of the season, a parting of the ways was inevitable. Liverpool rejected two offers from Manchester City before sanctioning a £49m transfer that July, but not until after Sterling had forced their hand further by missing two days of training through illness and refusing to travel on a pre-season tour of the Far East.

    Eventually getting his move to Man City, Sterling would sign a contract reported to be worth £200k a week - double what he had rejected at Anfield. And his comments upon signing, again seemingly belittling the side he left behind, only stuck the knife in further to the backs of Kopites.

    “I’ve just had to learn to take it all in my stride but I never imagined I’d be at this point at the age I am now and breaking a British transfer record fee,” he said. “The world-class players that are here and a squad that are capable of winning things year in, year out. The more quality players that are around you, the more quality it brings out in you so I can’t wait to get started and play alongside them.”

    Given the trophies he has won with Man City, hindsight tells us Sterling’s decision to leave ultimately paid off. But what the winger didn’t know is that his former side would soon be challenging him for the very same honours following the appointment of Klopp in October 2015.
    Such glory at Anfield did little to mend those wounds, of course. When it comes to Sterling, time has been no healer.

    Ever since Jon Flanagan flew into the winger to roaring cheers in the opening minutes of his Anfield return in March 2016, just days after City had overcome the Reds in the League Cup final at Wembley, he has been made well-aware of his standing with his departure taken most personally.

    He can no doubt expect the exact same reaction when he now takes on his former club with Chelsea.
    With his every touch booed, it’s telling that the one time he has scored at his old stomping ground and tasted victory came in February 2021, behind closed doors, at a time when the coronavirus pandemic kept fans away from stadiums. Otherwise, for the majority of clashes with Liverpool, he has been withdrawn early following ineffectual displays or even been taken out of the firing line and left out of the starting XI.

    Meanwhile, his spat with Joe Gomez when Liverpool beat Man City 3-1 in November 2019, before his bust-up with centre-back on international duty with England, only damaged his standing with Reds even further. Yet still, if reports are to be believed, he thought his Liverpool bridges could be mended.

    The irony is had Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2015 rather than a few months into the season, Sterling might well have stayed at Anfield. That’s certainly what Ward, the man who orchestrated his Reds departure, believed as he hit out at the Northern Irishman and bemoaned his client’s exit, insisting he should have still been a Liverpool player, when speaking to the Daily Mail following the German’s appointment.

    “I became the bad guy, that's how I was portrayed,' Ward said. “It started from the PR behind Liverpool. There is no issue with the fans there, they don't know the full story, and there are lots of good people at Liverpool.

    “I had no problem with (chief executive) Ian Ayre for example. I have no issue with anyone but Rodgers. He had a massive job with massive funds. How did he do? Good coach, but as a manager I didn't like certain things about how he dealt with Raheem.

    “Fifty per cent of the players would probably tell you Brendan is not a good manager, but he is a good coach. The new Liverpool manager probably would have been a great fit for Raheem - passionate, disciplined in the right way, new ideas, not afraid of trying new things. He'll do great at Liverpool.”

    He continued: "Would Raheem under Klopp have been a good scenario? Yes, 100 per cent, definitely, mainly because of the person Klopp is - the passion, the drive, the emotion, wanting to achieve.

    “Raheem has all of this, but you won't always see it outwardly. Working with Klopp - that could have been great. He's going to get the best out of those players. It could have been a dream come true.'

    “Raheem could've stayed, he should be at Liverpool. I think for me it was like he was being told to be a good boy and sign a contract. In December I spoke to Liverpool and said we'll sign a contract if there is a buy-out clause - those clauses are now common practice. They said no to that.

    “Then there was an underhandedness, there were sly remarks. In press conferences, Brendan told everyone Raheem would sign - why do that? I knew, Brendan knew and Liverpool knew there was an issue. Right now he probably should be a Liverpool player, but he's not and he's in a great place at City.”

    Ill-advised or not when just a boy, as soon as Sterling listened to such advice and pushed to leave, the damage was done. No excuses permitted, he ultimately made his bed and burned his Liverpool bridges long ago.

    The Reds might indeed still be in the winger’s heart, having signed him from Queens Park Rangers when he was just 15 and given him his senior breakthrough in the game, but there was never any chance of Kopites forgiving, forgetting and welcoming him back with open arms despite what he might have hoped.

    Whether he really wanted to return to Anfield this summer or not, only he will know, but Sterling has found out the hard way that actions have consequences. Seven years on from forcing his way through the Liverpool exit door and he’s had to accept that this time there really is no going back.

    R. Sterling's actions before his Liverpool exit

    Understandable:
    Wrong:

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