The saga over Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling’s future is likely to rumble on well into the summer after the club turned the tables on his agent.
Sterling and representative Aidy Ward were due to meet manager Brendan Rodgers and chief executive Ian Ayre on Friday for the reopening of talks which were halted in March after the 20-year-old rejected a £100,000-a-week deal.
The pair may well have been planning to make a statement of intent not to sign any new contract at the meeting, but they had the rug pulled from under them when the Reds cancelled.
It is understood reported comments from Ward earlier in the day, in which he claimed the youngster would “definitely not” agree a new deal - even for £900,000-a-week – convinced Liverpool officials there was little point in going ahead with the get-together.
It was a sign they were trying to regain the initiative after a week in which Sterling’s name has been on every back page for three days with speculation growing over his unhappiness at Anfield.
Ward has subsequently distanced himself from the quotes in the London Evening Standard and reportedly threatened to take legal action, although the damage has already been done.
But, while the forward may be in limbo in the medium term – his contract still has two years to run – there is no suggestion he will be sanctioned for the actions of his agent.
Sterling trained with the squad at the club’s Melwood complex on Thursday, will do so on Friday and remains available for selection in Liverpool’s final match at Stoke, although manager Brendan Rodgers has a decision to make ahead of Sunday with the player having spent all week in the headlines.
Ward has been widely criticised for his handling of negotiations after turning down the club’s offer of a substantial increase on the player’s current £35,000-a-week deal.
The player conducted an interview, unauthorised by the club, in which he insisted he was not “a money-grabber” before reports emerged earlier this week - played down by Ward – that Liverpool would be told at Friday’s meeting Sterling would not sign a new contract.
Ward’s latest gambit appears to have backfired after the club moved to take back the initiative in what is becoming something of a very public phoney war which took an explosive turn following the agent’s reported comments to the Evening Standard.
“I don’t care about the PR of the club and the club situation. I don’t care,” Ward was quoted as saying.
“He is definitely not signing. He’s not signing for £700,000, £800,000, £900,000 a week. He is not signing.
“My job is to make sure I do the best with them (my clients). If people say I am bad at my job, or they are badly advised, it does not matter.
“I am not worried. Worried is making a decision not knowing what is going to happen. Every Premier League club will make a bid for him.”
Manchester United were reported to have made an enquiry about the youngster, but senior sources at Old Trafford have said he is not on their list of current targets.