LONDON • Raheem Sterling has asked to be left out of Liverpool's pre-season tour of Thailand, Australia and Malaysia amid interest from Manchester City in the forward, and skipped training yesterday by phoning in sick.
In a move that will increase City's hopes of signing Sterling after having two recent offers turned down by Liverpool, the England player informed Brendan Rodgers that he feels it would be better for all parties if he is omitted from the squad that travels to Thailand on Sunday.
Sterling also made it clear to the Liverpool manager that his determination to leave is undiminished despite his club having signed six players already in the close season, a stance that will be viewed by City as the latest signal of the 20-year-old's desire to join them this summer.
Liverpool will not stand in Sterling's way if they receive an offer in excess of £50 million (S$104.7 million) for a player who is widely regarded as one of European football's most exciting talents.
As yet, City have refused to meet that valuation with their two bids, coming in the space of six days, of £30 million and £40 million, both of which were dismissed out of hand by Liverpool.
ADAPTING TO IMPROVE
I'm going to have to get used to a new style of play but I'll also get the opportunity to improve my game even further.
ROBERTO FIRMINO, the 23-year-old Brazilian, who has been signed with a view to replacing Raheem Sterling
Despite claims that City's last bid was their final offer, Liverpool remain braced for a third approach, which will inevitably test their desire to keep hold of a player who has not only made clear his desire to leave but who also now views his position at the club as untenable.
Among Sterling's reasons for seeking to be left out of the tour, which features visits to Bangkok, Brisbane, Adelaide and Kuala Lumpur, is the attention that his presence would provoke.
Liverpool's position, though, is that as long as he remains contracted to the club, Sterling - who scored seven goals in 34 Premier League appearances last season - must continue to represent the club as directed by Rodgers.
The situation is not a new one for Liverpool, who were faced with a similar predicament two years ago during Arsenal's unsuccessful pursuit of Luis Suarez.
At the time, the Uruguayan's attempts to force a move were faced down by Liverpool and after joining his club's pre-season tour of Australia, the striker ended the summer training alone before reluctantly accepting that he would not be allowed to leave.
The key difference with Sterling, however, is that Liverpool will sanction his sale at the right price.
However, unless a deal is struck with City before this weekend, Rodgers will expect the former Queens Park Rangers player to be on the flight to Bangkok with the rest of his team-mates.
Liverpool have been preparing for Sterling's probable departure with Roberto Firmino, the Brazil attacking midfielder, being signed from Hoffenheim for £29 million.
Firmino scored 49 goals in 153 games for Hoffenheim after his arrival from Figueirense in January 2011 and won his first Brazil international cap last year.
The 23-year-old, who has yet to report for pre-season training having been given extended leave following his involvement in the Copa America tournament with his country, said he will need time to adapt to the Premier League but believes his level can only improve once he settles at the Anfield club.
"I have the opportunity to start an exciting new chapter now.
"I am looking forward to a new challenge and am excited to find out what the Premier League has to offer," Firmino said.
"Everything will once again be new to me at the start.
"I'm going to have to get used to a new style of play but I will also get the opportunity to improve my game even further.
"Of course, I want to be a regular starter at Liverpool and be successful with my new team."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN