Ronnie Whelan: Brendan Rodgers should cash in on foolish Sterling
BRENDAN Rodgers is now facing into the biggest few months of his career at Anfield which will define him as a manager and the first decision he should make is to cut Raheem Sterling loose.
Last November, Rodgers was in crisis territory and responded by digging his team out of trouble through a mixture of smart thinking and man management.
Moving Sterling into a striker's role was a big move as was the switch to a three-man defence anchored by Martin Skrtel and given creativity by Emre Can.
When he woke up today after a bad weekend, all three players were at the top of his list of problems and one other, Mario Balotelli.
I wonder has Balotelli's smug, rebellious nature finally done it's work on the training ground. I wonder has Rodgers been undermined to the point where even his best men are losing their discipline.
Balotelli decided not to play at the weekend and I'm not even surprised. At this point, there is no useful purpose served in him staying at the club and Rodgers should just tell him to pack his bags.
In fact, his presence continues to be a destabilising factor and I'm certain, part of the reason Rodgers is now dealing with a nest of difficulties.
Steven Gerrard started the trend with a stupid red card, Skrtel followed and Can put his hand up for the dunce's hat against Arsenal.
But why now? Why is the discipline which Rodgers managed to re-establish after an awful November slump falling apart now?
Sterling's unauthorised interview with the BBC put the tin hat on it as far as I'm concerned. Rodgers has enough on his plate without this sort of rubbish.
In fact, it was this kind of unscripted, unpredictable and deeply frustrating side issue which made me reassess where my life was going in football management. In the end, I walked away because of it.
I'm not that long out of it but I can't even imagine how much worse it has become. If the Sterling case is typical, we are in a very bad place.
The problem is, Sterling, or whoever is advising him, is using the rights won in the European Court by Marc Bosman who was fighting exploitation and for freedom of contract, to hold Liverpool to ransom.
I agree with the principle but I don't agree with the way it is being used in these high profile, big salary stories. Young lads that should be down on their hands and knees thanking their lucky stars that they are gifted with the ability to play football are being used as pawns in high finance.
The important word there is play. Most people don't play for a living. They work.
Good pros work hard and honour the gift they've been given. They have every right to expect to be very well compensated especially after Sky's huge investment.
If Raheem Sterling was 26 and as important to Liverpool as Steven Gerrard was or maybe Michael Owen, I would say good luck to him, get as much as he can.
But he is not that important and everything I'm hearing about this saga makes me think that this is a case of a young lad who has been badly advise. He is digging in his heels over a contract which should not be the most important thing in his life right now.
As a result, his manager, the man who gave him his chance, is dealing with a wave of negative press at a time when his team is again in crisis and will be missing three big players for the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Blackburn on Wednesday.
Rodgers can do nothing about that but he can put a full stop behind one of his problems by taking young Sterling aside and telling him in no uncertain terms that he will be a Liverpool player for the next two years; that he club is willing to call his bluff. Remember, they did just that with Luis Suarez.
If Real Madrid come in with a £60m offer, Liverpool should grab it and wave Sterling out the door. That money could make all the difference in the summer transfer market.