Our reporter contrasts the behaviour of Charlie Austin and Raheem Sterling
POOR Raheem Sterling. The Man City moneygrabber has taken plenty of stick for his move to the Etihad this summer but, after seeing his old gaff up for sale on Rightmove, it’s clear he was living on the breadline.
For starters, the £1.5m Southport pad had only four bedrooms and one wasn’t even en suite. And how could anyone struggle by with half a basketball court, let alone one indoor swimming pool? It’s a miracle the geezer didn’t spend his Wednesdays busking outside Cavern Walks.
Viewed in this light, it’s perfectly acceptable that Sterling told Liverpool he “wasn’t in the right frame of mind” to face Stoke on the final day of last season.
Nor that he wasn’t particularly keen – despite being under contract – to take any part in pre-season training.
Except, of course, it isn’t. Sterling’s conduct this summer was pathetic, childish and unprofessional. Asking to leave is unpalatable but fair. Pulling a hissy fit and refusing to play, in a bid to force a move, is a flat-out betrayal.
It reeks of a spoilt kid who has lost touch with his roots, who has failed to appreciate his wealth and privilege. Of a 19-year-old hung out to dry by his advisers.
Listen to the cynics and they tell you it’s simply part of the game, a necessarily selfish act in an intrinsically selfish business.
History is littered with depressing examples of those who’ve huffed their way to a bigger contract or ‘better’ club – including England captain Wayne Rooney and Real Madrid’s world record signing Gareth Bale, who deliberately skipped Spurs training to make his intentions clear.
I say that’s self-serving nonsense. Because, 250 miles down the road at Queens Park Rangers, Charlie Austin is showing how it should be done.
With 18 goals in 36 Premier League games last season, there’s no way the 26-year-old should be back in the Champi- onship. But, for some reason – and nobody seems quite sure what – none of his suitors seems willing to pay the £15m asking price.
Some say it’s the history of shoulder dislocations. Others, notably West Ham co-chairman David Gold, have claimed his knee ligaments are non-existent. In reality, both factors are more likely tenuous bargaining tools than genuine concerns.
Nevertheless, Austin could easily have kicked up a stink. Refused to train, refused to play, leaked a come-andget-me plea through his agent. Any of those tactics might have forced Rangers to lower their perfectly reasonable valuation. But Austin didn’t. He said he’d leave the transfer shenanigans to the club and his agent, then get on with what he’s paid to do – score goals for QPR. That’s exactly what he’s done.
Austin has seen life outside the Premiership bubble. He knows how hard it is to get up at 5am and build walls for a living, to play on the parks for expenses and beer money. He appreciates how lucky he is to be living every kid’s dream.
Just this week, Gold publicly questioned Austin’s talent and fitness. The blunt, direct response was typical of a man who doesn’t hide behind agents or bland banalities. Typical of a man who, last season, stood on the County Ground terraces to watch former club Swindon in the playoffs, and last week paid to watch his old NonLeague clubs Hungerford and Poole Town do battle in the Southern League.
Unfortunately, Austin’s attitude is only likely to raise his value. A bloke like that is worth ten petty prima donnas.
But when – and it surely is when – he does go, at least Austin can leave through the front door with his head held high. Not out the back, whingeing like a spoilt brat.
HANDS TIED: Neil Lennon