Reds must put aside their regret over losing Sterling

LONDON • At Liverpool, Raheem Sterling, 20, will always be viewed as the one who got away, a player signed in the hope that he would represent a bright future only to become a symbol of an ongoing struggle to retain talent.

It could have been worse. Less than 18 months after moving to Merseyside in 2010, chronic homesickness left Sterling hankering for a return to London. By convincing him to stay, Liverpool might only have delayed his departure but they ensured that a record-breaking payday would not be missed.

As well as their desire to keep hold of a player whom they regarded as special from the moment he arrived, Liverpool's determination not to lose Sterling so soon after signing him for £400,000 (S$858,000) was born of a fear that the hard work they had put into convincing him to join them would go to waste.

But, while the club went out of their way to make sure Sterling was settled at Anfield and on Merseyside in general, they could not prevent him from becoming homesick within 18 months of leaving London, where he played for Queens Park Rangers Academy.

At first, the problem seemed manageable and Liverpool hoped that Sterling would get over it.

But before long, the situation reached crisis point as concern grew that the 16-year-old would return to the capital to be reunited with his mother, Nadine.

The solution that Liverpool came up with changed everything as, out of sheer desperation as much as anything else, they decided to purchase a house in Woolton - a wealthy suburb in the south of the city - that he could move into with his mother.

It proved an inspired decision as Sterling finally settled with Phil Roscoe, the club's head of education and welfare, playing an increasingly influential role.

It also proved to be a significant staging post in the development of the player.

Within 12 months, he made his full debut with a first appearance for England following soon after as his talent became increasingly difficult to ignore.

What happened subsequently resulted in Sterling joining Manchester City for £49 million in July this year but, whatever regrets Liverpool have about his departure, should not consume them.

Not only were they able to make an enormous profit on him, they had also prevented him from leaving before he had even made his first-team breakthrough.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Reds must put aside their regret over losing Sterling'. Print Edition | Subscribe