Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has denied a breakdown in his relationship with Raheem Sterling motivated the English prodigy to force a move to Manchester City during the summer transfer window. Rodgers pointed out that the 21-year-old winger was one of the first to message him in October when Rodgers was sacked by the Merseysiders.
Sterling's future at Anfield was put under scrutiny when the player gave an unauthorised interview to the BBC in April, revealing he had rejected a new deal – worth around £100,000 ($142,000) a week – as he was not interested in money, but winning trophies. His agent, Aidy Ward, later confirmed he wanted to leave, launching an full-scale attack on Liverpool and the ones who questioned how the Anfield starlet had dealt with the situation.
Reports at the time suggested that Sterling had asked to leave the club both because of his lack of communication with Rodgers and frustration over a constant change of position, being played as a wing-full-back and as a false nine in a number of games.
But Rodgers said to Sky Sports: "It wasn't ideal but I think what was reported in the media was different to how it played out on a day-to-day basis. Raheem's a great boy – I put him in the team at 17 and for the next couple of years he was incredible. It's just a shame that he was very close to signing the [new] deal and for whatever reason, it didn't happen."
"I was surprised at [reports of a breakdown in trust between Rodgers and Sterling] because we were still in contact. When the boy left, we messaged each other and when I left Liverpool, one of the first messages I got was from Raheem. When he left there was apparently an array of reasons why; it was his position and then, towards the end, our communication had supposedly broken down. But that was never the case.
"I always had a good relationship with Raheem. I take great pride in putting him into the team and we played him in a number of positions so he could develop; wide, as a No 10. He was such a great footballer that whenever I needed to chase the game, I could play three at the back, put him at right-back and let him go."
One way or another the 21-year-old star eventually secured a move to the Etihad Stadium after Manuel Pellegrini's side agreed to pay £49m for his signature, making him the most expensive English player in history.
Rodgers says it was sad to let the player go, but insisted he was not at fault for the move with his tactical decisions.
"People looking from the outside might have thought I was playing him out of position but I could play him anywhere, he was absolutely brilliant. He's gone on to Manchester City and that flexibility – also for England – has really helped him, so I'd like the think the development he received from the coaches at Liverpool helped him. He's a fantastic young man, he always trained hard. It was sad to see him go – especially after we'd lost Luis [Suarez] – but he's a top-class young player and if he stays fit he'll continue to improve and be one of the leading players for City and England.
"Can he be world-class? Time will tell. He's got the talent. He's certainly got the temperament. He's got the speed. Technically, he's improving all the time and he's around good players."