The most striking facet of the Hodgson Sterling kerfuffle of the last week is how what was essentially a matter between the two men was conflated into a club v country, England v Liverpool affair.
Somewhere along the line, people seem to have confused the Sterling issue with Liverpool’s lingering displeasure at the handling of Daniel Sturridge by the England camp.
The media must take a large part of the blame in this, being too quick to see it as an opportunity to stoke the enmity between Liverpool and Hodgson’s regime for the sake of some column inches and page views.
The usual Twitter lame brains also added to the nonsense by attacking young Sterling and suggesting that he didn’t know the meaning of tired. And Liverpool fans fanned the flames by jumping on Roy Hodgson and using the incident to back their view that the England manager is an incompetent with a vendetta against their club.
The reality, however, is that the Sterling and Sturridge affairs aren’t really linked at all. Or at least they weren’t until Hodgson questioned Liverpool’s player husbandry. But in essence, Hodgson’s treatment of Raheem Sterling only raises questions about the England manager’s relationship with his players.
There is general agreement about how young talents like Sterling should be protected. Liverpool are very unlikely to have been put out by Hodgson’s decision to start Sterling from the bench against Estonia. In fact, his part in England’s two recent fixtures will mean that the player actually got more rest than anyone could have expected.
On hearing that the player wasn’t feeling 100 percent, Hodgson was quite correct to quiz him about his well being. And he was quite correct to give him some bench time given the response. The only point at issue – and this is not a point that should have overly concerned Liverpool – was how Hodgson imparted his decision to rest Sterling to the media.
For some, he was correct to tell the truth – that the player had complained of tiredness and so as manager he decided to rest him. However, others have felt that Hodgson did so to cover his own back. His wording wasn’t casual, it was calculated to suggest the player didn’t fancy it and should the Estonian game go badly, it was Sterling and his lack of commitment that would draw fire.
Where you stand on this seems to correlate with typical tribal leanings. Liverpool fans lament Hodgson’s cowardice, his betrayal of player-manager confidentiality, his poor man management skills. Others have indeed focused on the player and commended the manager for his honesty in answering a direct question.
The argument is characterised by intransigence. No one will budge. But essentially, this is not a club versus country battle. As I’ve said, Liverpool as a club will have been quite happy with how Sterling’s physical well being was put first. There might be a little concern about damage to the player’s reputation, but there will be recognition that that is an issue between Sterling and his international manager. Indeed, it will also be an issue between the England players and the manager and how they feel about discussing concerns with Hodgson.
The Sturridge issue will be of more importance to the club. A player vital to their interests has come back injured from the England duty four times since he signed for the Merseysiders. Sturridge is physically brittle. That’s not news. Liverpool have worked hard to provide an exercise and recovery regimen to maintain his fitness. Naturally, they would hope that England would take similar care of the player. The fact that Hodgson has not and has dismissed Liverpool’s recovery program as having no real basis will surely rankle. That lack of sensitivity played some role in Sturridge’s latest injury setback.
But perhaps had the England manager given Liverpool’s thinking more consideration and allowed the striker to stick to his club routine, Sturridge would have not gotten injured. Yes, he may then have picked up the injury while playing for England against the Swiss – but if that had happened, then Liverpool would have been much more likely to accept that outcome.
However, Hodgson chose not to. And Sturridge suffered a thigh strain that has seen him out for almost five weeks. The England manager had made the apparently logical argument that if he let players rest after matches, he’d not be able to get valuable time on the training pitch with them.
But the irony is that by not taking Liverpool’s advice on the player, he lost Sturridge for three qualifying matches and a good number of training sessions anyway. That’s not to mention straining his relationship with Brendan Rodgers and the player and probably raising a few other managerial eyebrows to boot.
The Sterling and Sturridge issues could have been avoided or at least handled better by Roy Hodgson. But conflating the two only serves to obscure the fact that, Hodgson’s injudicious words aside, his decision to rest Sterling offers some common ground between club and country. Perhaps that might provide the basis for some bridge building.