LONDON (REUTERS) - If Raheem Sterling does decide to leave Liverpool he may struggle to find a manager more loyal than Brendan Rodgers.
After Saturday's crushing 4-1 defeat by Arsenal, Rodgers rallied in support of his forward, labelling him Liverpool's best player when a less generous manager could have criticised him for disrupting the build-up to one of their most important games of the season.
An interview in which Sterling sought to justify stalling on a new £100,000 (S$200,000) a week contract and hinted that perhaps Liverpool could not match his ambition dominated the back pages in the run-up to the game.
As it turned out, Sterling was among a number of Liverpool players who failed to shine at the Emirates and his only meaningful contribution was being felled for a penalty in the second half when the visitors were already 3-0 down.
Rodgers, however, was in a generous mood and could not find fault with his performance. "I thought he was excellent, our best player, impressive in his running, pressed the ball well and won the penalty and very direct and strong," the Liverpool boss told reporters.
The interview in which Sterling denied being a "money- grabbing 20-year-old" has won him few admirers among Liverpool supporters and if he was hoping to use Saturday's match to showcase his talents, his plan backfired.
The England forward, who Rodgers is keen to point out still has over two years left on his Liverpool deal, remained on the periphery of the match as the visitors' defence leaked three goals in eight minutes at the end of the first half.
The nearest Sterling came to adding to his season's tally of six Premier League goals came in the first half when he shot wide from the edge of the area with the keeper to beat, although he did at least have a hand in Liverpool's only goal.
Rodgers confessed the idea of a young player turning down a £100,000 a week was frustrating, while also hinting that Sterling was being poorly advised.
"In the modern game, it is something that would probably frustrate us all, but it is the market, it is where football is at," he said.
"I brought Raheem into the team from the reserves and I know the kid well and I know a big part of this is nothing to do with him."