The Raheem Sterling melodrama is a storyline befitting the current times.
Sterling and Liverpool have been mutual antagonists for a while now and the animosity between the two parties has, by way of its sustained nastiness, been very dispiriting to watch.
People have talked of football’s financial age in disparaging terms for a long time and when they do say they typically reference spiraling ticket prices, exorbitant wages and the pure cost of being a fan in the modern era. Understandably, too, because never has being a supporter felt so futile, so incidental.
Liverpool loyalists will have a different, more personal take on the Sterling situation. They will see his attempts to defect as an affront to the club they love and, as and when he does leave, their resentment will follow him around for the rest of his career. They’ll be chastised for that and told, because Sterling was not bred by the club and because they themselves plundered him from Queens Park Rangers, that he owes them nothing and that he should be thanked for his service and allowed to dictate his own path through the game.
It’s a very reasonable argument because, undeniably, nobody has any moral superiority in this situation and Liverpool and Sterling, like any other club/player relationship, has only ever been a marriage of convenience.
When fans oppose that argument, they’re chastised. When they talk of loyalty and they speak regretfully of other declining emotional fashions, they’re laughed at and pointed in the direction of the game’s stark financial realities.
“This is your club’s role in the game and this, by proxy, is your place. Know it, accept it, don’t complain.”
Financial realities: what a depressing phrase.
That’s maybe the true evil of modern football. A lot of the cosmetic and literal changes to the game are depressing, but maybe nothing is quite as jarring as the emotional demands made of supporters and the insistence that they, at all times, must know their own place in the hierarchy. Sport is supposed to be aspirational and it’s meant to offer an alternative to the grinding predictability of 9-5 life. Between Monday and Friday, fans are held down by their mortgage payments, their insultingly low wage-packets and their general circumstances, but on Saturday and Sunday they’re supposed to have the opportunity to live outside their means, to dream of the improbable and the unexpected.
That doesn’t really exist now - at least, not in the way that it probably once did.
Football is becoming an extension of weekday life, it has that same grinding feel to it and that familiar sense of repetition. It occurs in a different setting and it superficially offers a sense of distraction, but it’s littered with issues which used to be confined to working hours. Aspiration has been replaced with restriction and whenever injustice is perceived, there’s always a smugly logical rationale for why it must be tolerated and accepted and why, actually, it’s not an injustice at all.
The back-and-forward between Sterling and Liverpool is just the latest example of something which has become increasingly prevalent. It is, like in so many other instances, a squabble which occurs miles above the supporters’ conciousness and over a set of issues which they can’t possibly relate to. It is about money and it is about possession; two mighty beasts scratch and claw at each other while everyone else - the small and the irrelevant - is forced to stand and watch, incapable of effecting the outcome in any way.
Football is less a series of contests now and more a continuous financial arm-wrestle. It’s all glass-ceilings and faux-aspiration, owners and players deciding amongst themselves what works best for them and supporters being told how they should react and how they should feel.
Saturdays are Mondays now, just another day of the week on which your irrelevance is reaffirmed.