01 April 2015

Raheem Sterling's channeling a van Persie-esque "little boy"...

Stop me if you've heard this one before: talismanic striker grows frustrated at his club's trophy-drought and flagging Prem fortunes and openly courts other clubs, denying financial motives and emphasizing a desire to win silverware. If the first name that came to mind was Robin van Persie, congratulations! You're a Gooner to the bone. If the first name that came to mind was Raheem Sterling, well, erm, congratulations again. It seems that Sterling, who called it "quite flattering" to be linked to Arsenal, has taken a page from van Persie's book. It's not about the money, even if it is; it's about the silverware. Should we at Arsenal actually open our arms, hearts, and pocketbook to the man?

Let's get the unpleasant business out of the way first, shall we? We at the Arsenal should mind our p's and q's a little bit as we eye up another club's goal-scorer, braying as much as we did at van Persie's betrayal, before bragging as much as we might at Sterling's. Manners demand nothing less. Or more. I forget which.

Now that that's settled, we can sink our teeth into the meat of the matter. Sterling claims that his contract-situation is unsettled, not because of money but because of trophies. Read on:
I always want to win and it is time to win some prizes with a club, some titles. I never would have gone for the money, but wanted the change to take my career a bit further.
Those, of course, are van Persie's words, explaining why he left Arsenal for a better chance at silverware with Manchester United (which he won rather promptly).  Here's how Sterling put it:
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 just purely want to be the best I can be.
There are a few parallels, of course—the emphasis on achievement rather than on avarice, of course—but does Sterling echo van Persie elsewhere? You be the judge
I just want to be seen as a kid who loves to play football and to do the best for the team.
This might not quite rise to the level of van Persie's inspid "little boy inside him" remarks, but it comes close. Several times during his most-recent BBC interview, Sterling pointed out that he's a 20-year-old, as if to draw attention to how na├»ve and pure he is, innocent to the Machiavellian ways of the world—come to think of it, maybe that mindset makes him perfect for Arsenal...

Like van Persie before he left Arsenal, Sterling has only ever experienced second- or third-tier glory, winning the League Cup in 2012. Unlike van Persie, Sterling has his entire career in front of him as he considers his next move. We can perhaps excuse or accept van Persie's departure as that of a man entering the twilight of his career. Sterling, at the tender age of 20, has perhaps a decade if not more in front of him. What does it say about his current club if he's already flirting with a departure despite his current contract going to 2017?

At some level, it suggests that Liverpool might be fading from relevance as the country's top-drawer talent look to not only be the best that money can buy but also have the best that money can buy. Let's face it: Liverpool ain't London. Even if Sterling were paid £100,000 a week to stay in Liverpool, a part of him would always wonder what he should spend it on. I'm not bragging when I say so; far from it. As much as I'd love to see Sterling come to Arsenal—who wouldn't love the idea of a 20-year-old winger being tutored by Thierry?—a small, small part of me worries about the historic rivalry between us and Liverpool.

Sterling's words aside, let's face facts: there is no real separation between weekly wages and chances at silverware. They go hand-in-glove. We've long since left the era in which players played for pride or passion or principle. They want to win, and they want to win now. We've seen our own hopes scuppered often enough by the departures of van Persie, Nasri, and Fabregas, among others, to at least encourage us to pause a moment before salivating over the arrival of someone else's talisman.

Then again, we're all fish, and this is the water we swim in. Who am I to ask us to walk or crawl or fly? If Sterling is unhappy at Liverpool, and if Arsenal can offer him a realistic chance to play, develop, and win, why not?

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