As Manchester City and Liverpool clash today in the race for a top four finish and Champions League qualification, it’s worth comparing and contrasting the fortunes of two Number 7s.
Raheem Sterling and James Milner switched clubs in the summer of 2015 – one in a sh*tstorm of vitriol, the other in a sea of indifference.
Sterling joined City to further his career, win trophies and yes, earn top dollars.
He’s one of England’s rising stars, is rapidly fulfilling his vast potential under Pep Guardiola, has a winner’s medal – a League Cup Final victory over Liverpool – with the prospect of many more honours to come, as the Catalan genius gets to grips with English football.
Liverpool fans and the Scouse supporting media, love to portray Sterling as a money grasping snake – the epitome of all that’s wrong with modern day football.
He’s a hated figure for no reason other than having the temerity to leave the hallowed Anfield turf behind.
The world of football punditry, littered with biased ex-Liverpool players, laid into the English youngster in a carefully orchestrated hate campaign. It was as vile as it was malicious.
Contrast that with James Milner.
Apparently Milner left City as he wanted to win trophies, play in his preferred central midfield role and consolidate his position in the England team.
Milner is portrayed as something of a saint, allegedly taking a pay cut, for the privilege of playing for a club that has yet to win the Premier League.
Sterling was up front and honest with his reasons for not signing a contract extension with Brendan Rodgers’ team – he saw City as a more favourable environment to realise his future dreams and ambitions.
Milner fulfilled his contractual obligations with City having won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup.
He left the Etihad without any acrimony from City fans, but the fact he picked up a £5m+ signing on fee is conveniently overlooked by the red tinted media, stacked high with Sterling haters.
No one can blame Milner for grabbing his massive pay day – that’s his prerogative – especially as he winds down on a solid and successful career, one in which he only hit the dizzy heights with City.
So why is Sterling vilified while Milner isn’t? Both players stated their respective reasons for swapping Merseyside for Manchester and vice versa and they weren’t dissimilar.
It’s worth noting that since the switch Milner has won nothing at Anfield – zip, diddly squat, nowt – plays at left back and is a complete non-starter for England.
Milner left the Etihad on a Bosman, whereas Sterling departed Anfield for a fee that could eventually hit £49m, albeit 20% of that will go to Sterling’s original club QPR, as part of a sell-on clause with Liverpool.
The reality is Liverpool will, at best, pick up circa £35m, for a player Pep Guardiola is destined to hone into one of the most exciting talents in European football.
Sterling maintains a dignified silence and respect for his former employers, even praising his former boss Rodgers, for helping his development.
Milner, on the other hand, seems compelled to keep pandering to the sensitivities of the Scousers who feel so slighted by Sterling’s departure.
Jimmy occasionally spouts garbage about City, the latest utterances claiming the present day Liverpool team is better than City’s two title winning sides.
Once again, it’s Milner’s prerogative to voice his opinions, but doesn’t it all sound a bit forced, somewhat desperate to justify his move after what will be two seasons of comparative failure?
Maybe it has more to do with actions speaking louder than words.
Of course the Liverpool fans will never admit it, but they’re jealous that at 22-year old, Sterling will more than likely, realise his ambitions of Premier League titles, FA Cup wins and, who knows, Champions League success, under the guidance of Guardiola.
Conversely, the City fans remain largely apathetic to Milner since his move to pastures new. He fails to evoke extreme passions of either loving or loathing. He did a decent job in City’s sky blue, ran down his contract and left – fair enough.
Come kick off time at the Etihad this afternoon the away section will adopt their default position of victims, continuing to spit their bile and venom in the direction of City’s Number 7.
Milner will most likely go largely unhindered by the home fans, who will focus on trying to overcome a Liverpool side which has proven something of a nemesis in recent league encounters.
It speaks volumes about the two sets of supporters.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu