The sinister tone of the Raheem Sterling coverage

There’s an ugliness to this.

Beneath the surface of the coverage of the Raheem Sterling melodrama lies something quite unsavoury.  Sterling may be in the midst of an acrimonious fall-out with Liverpool, but there’s a strangely personal edge to some of the accompanying commentary.

Emotions run high during this kind of situation and tribalism can often bleed into what is generally supposed to be neutral reporting.  That’s fine, because fandom is emotive and anybody who writes about the game, at any level, will understand the struggle of containing their loyalties.

Even so, the characterisation of Sterling throughout this episode is troubling.

Money is an evil in football, but that’s nothing new.  In 2015, we should be almost numb to its persuasive impact on players and also to the influence agents have over younger, more impressionable players.

In Sterling’s case, Aidy Ward - his representative - has clearly orchestrated a campaign of sorts.  It was unquestionably his idea to put his client in front of a BBC camera and to conduct the supposedly unauthorised interview that has created so much friction.

This has all the hallmarks of a PR-takeover: Ward evidently wanted to reinforce upon the public that Sterling’s hesitancy does not have its roots in avarice and that he harbours purer, footballing concerns over Liverpool’s direction.  Truthfully, it’s probably a combination of both; the club’s initial £100,000/week offer is low and it does not reflect his relative value in the current market.  Ambition may have a part, but it’s naive to view this as anything other than a leverage tactic and a clumsy attempt to exert some external pressure on FSG.

Sterling did not come across well on television and that has intensified the reaction.  He was awkward, uneasy and everything else you would expect from a twenty year-old footballer with next-to-no media experience.  Footballers are well-practiced in the art of saying as little as they possibly can to journalists - quite justifiably - so when they do attempt to be more open, they invariably end up sounding insincere.

So, again, it’s easy to understand the animosity.

But Sterling isn’t the real enemy here.  Even though it concerns his career directly, he is not solely responsible for the events of the past twenty-four hours and, as such, isn’t the more natural angle to attack the agent?  We’ve all read that article dozens of time before: the player’s behaviour is irritating, the advisor is the true manipulator.

During Wayne Rooney’s periodic disputes with Manchester United, the player himself was spared much of the treatment that Sterling is currently enduring.  Rooney was booed by his own supporters a bit and there was some mild hand-wringing over his conduct, but the media’s barrels were pointed steadily in the direction of Paul Stretford, his agent.

Rightly so, too.  Players don’t control how they’re portrayed publicly and they aren’t sitting down at a desk to hand-write their own press-releases.  Rooney’s two contract renewals were orchestrated by unseen forces and the angst was aimed accordingly.

It’s not the same with Sterling.  For whatever reason, this time the pitchforks are jabbing at the player and there is clearly a very determined effort from a range of sources to personify him in a particular way.

Read the language, compare the terminology, feel the difference in tone: It’s very, very personal.

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