OpinionJohn Aldridge

Liverpool will become a feeder club if they lose these stars

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Liverpool will become a feeder club if they lose these stars

LIVERPOOL are standing firm in their contract dis­putes with Jordan Hender­son and Raheem Sterling – but I fear that there is a real danger that one of the great clubs in world foot­ball might soon be recast as a feeder for the game’s modern giants.

It pains me to write these words as I would hate to see Liverpool, the one-time kings of English and European foot­ball, being dismissed as little more than a place where young players hone their skills be­fore they join genuine trophy contenders, but that is a real threat hanging over my old club right now.

Top teams have no problem keeping hold of their best play­ers and especially those they have worked hard to mould into top players like Henderson and Sterling, but Liverpool are not managing to do that any more.

Fernando Torres was lured away by Chelsea not so long ago for big money before Barcelona poached Luis Suarez last summer and now we find ourselves wondering whether Henderson and Sterling are the next star names to look for an Anfield escape route.

We all find the wages some players are on these days to be obscene, but the reality is that there are clubs in the Premier League and in Eu­rope who will give Henderson and Sterling the kind of wages their agents are demanding for them to stay at Anfield.

There is a huge injection of cash about to be pumped into English football’s top-flight clubs and the players and especially their agents want a healthy piece of that pie and, in some ways, I can understand where they are coming from.

This money is in the game because these players have helped to make the Premier League the most popu­lar football competition around the world and, as a result, the stars of this show can expect to be getting paid the kind of money that most of us find hard to comprehend.

During my time at Liverpool, the average wage for a first team player was around £150,000-a-year. It was good money in the late 1980s, but none of us playing then could have imagined what was about to happen to the game.

Sky Sports getting involved and throwing their money into the mix in 1992 changed everything in an instant and we have reached a point now where guys like Henderson and Sterling – who are decent players in the making – can expect to com­mand the kind of wage I could for 12 months in a single week.

Yes it’s crazy, yes it seems wrong at a time when so many people around the world are struggling financially, but those of us who complain about the wages football players earn are probably making an outdated argument.

If Liverpool don’t give Henderson and Sterling the contract they are demanding, the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea will be quite happy to give them what they want and take them away from Anfield. It’s not nice, but welcome to the game in 2015.

Zinedine Zidane’s comments a few days ago confirmed that Real Madrid are seriously considering a move for Sterling and they are another club that would give the 20-year-old an enormous wage, so you can see why I fear Liver­pool could be blown out of the game by all these big-spending clubs.

The club’s American owners run a tight financial ship and they are reluctant to pay players the kind of huge wages United, City and Chelsea have indulged in of late. Fair play to them for sticking to their principles, but you wonder whether they will pay for it in the long run.

If we reach the first day of next season and Henderson and Sterling are wearing Manchester City shirts, Liverpool will be the big losers in this story.

Winning teams have top players and they don’t let them go unless they de­cide the time is right, but this story could be taken out of Liv­erpool’s hands.

Sterling and his advisers have handled his contract dispute horri­bly and the lad has come out of it all very badly, but it is the Henderson situation that leads me to question the wisdom of Brendan Rodgers (below) giving him the captaincy in the absence of Steven Gerrard of late.

It’s clear that Brendan and Liverpool see Henderson as a possible replacement for Stevie when he leaves the club in a few weeks’ time, but they should never give a player, who has just one-year left on his contract this summer, such a high-profile role until he had agreed to sign a new contract.

I’d have given the armband to Martin Skrtel and told Henderson that he would only be considered as a possible Liverpool captain when he committed his future to the club.

Instead, Liverpool will be in a weak bargaining position when the player who has grown into the lead­ership role this season sits down to negotiate a new deal this summer. If Henderson doesn’t get the pay rise he wants, don’t be surprised if he leaves.

This is the way the modern game works, with loyalty an ideal from a bygone era of a game that used not be dominated by huge wage demands from players who many would ar­gue are not worth the cash.

The trouble is, if you don’t join in with the madness and pay players and their agents the going rate, you may well end up getting left behind by rivals who are willing to play this high-stakes game.

Liverpool and their owners have some big decisions to make when they offer Henderson and Sterling contracts in the next few weeks as the stakes could not be higher – their status as one of the biggest clubs in world football is at stake.