Lessons to be learned about employer branding and employee relations from the L.F.C versus Raheem Sterling saga.
As a recruiter I have watched with interest the never ending employee related catastrophes which appear to constantly emanate from the Premier League Football Club, Liverpool F.C. A club which is one of the largest and most important in the World if you believe the hype! How can they possibly have got their employer brand message and employee trust policy so utterly wrong?
A quick 5 minutes of reflection takes us back to the saga a couple of summers ago when the infamous eater of human flesh, Anfield’s very own Hannibal Lecter, the amazingly talented Luis Suarez made it very clear that he wanted to leave the club. Over a period of months we witnessed a constant display of posturing and antics from both parties which achieved nothing other than undermining the football club in terms of integrity and ethics. Suarez really couldn’t undermine his own reputation any more. Liverpool actually exploited this fact.
The web of lies and physical posturing which ensued left most of us wondering who was actually telling the truth. Luis Suarez agent claimed that the club had promised his client that if they didn’t qualify for the Champions League that they would allow him to leave. This was a gentleman’s agreement, nothing written down just a genuine goodwill gesture. Liverpool F.C denied that any such agreement had been reached in strenuous terms. We believed them.
This was closely followed by the true or not £40,000,000 + £1 offer from Arsenal who we were told were led to believe that there was a sell clause in Suarez contract which automatically meant he could leave if an offer exceeding £40 million was made. Liverpool’s owner John W Henry came out with his much repeated comment
“What do you think they are smoking over there at The Emirates?”
We believed them and all the media and pundits had a good laugh at Arsenal and Arsene Wengers expense. Which when you consider how open and honest Arsenal are about just about everything, such as Arsene’s telephone call with Alex Ferguson about Robin van Persey, is rather odd. Why would Arsenal be smoking anything? It’s business, it’s football.
It later transpired during a Sports Conference in the USA, that John W Henry admitted to lying and that Suarez did have a legal and contractual £40 million buyout clause. So suddenly what we learn is that when it suits Liverpool they will bend the truth, they will risk litigation and they then have the arrogance to admit this, almost as though this deceitfulness is somehow funny. So how do we know that the rest of their protestations were not lies as well? The simple answer is that we don’t. But once a liar always a liar, we all grew up with the tale about the little boy with his finger in the dam. So where does this leave Liverpool in terms of trust and relationship values with their playing staff? On a pretty rocky precipice of course, in just the same way as any other business who made a conscious decision at a corporate level to lie and cheat to manipulate their employees would. Think about this in the context of counter offers for example?
Now we have the on-going saga about Raheem Sterling, a bright eyed and talented 20 year old. Liverpool F.C and his agents have become embroiled in a publicly damaging tactical relations war. Raheem Sterling has made it pretty clear in his own words that he doesn’t want to stay at the club. He has also claimed on many occasions that it isn’t about the money. I believe him, simply because I couldn’t believe anything that comes out of the media machine behind Liverpool, the same media machine who created a catastrophic faux pas out of the Suarez and Evra racist issue. The same club who left Stevie G’ sweating over a new contract so long that even that legendary stalwart decided to take matters into his own hands. The same club who treated Roy Hodgson so despicably not too long ago, again when it suited them regardless of the bad PR. Who is their communications manager out of interest? I’m guessing it is either Max Clifford from his prison cell or maybe even Alistair Campbell who sailed Tony Blair through choppy waters and eventually left up a creek without a paddle.
Raheem Sterling undoubtedly has an amazing future in front of him, one that was initially crafted and developed by Queens Park Rangers, a club that Liverpool had no issue with exploiting to extract their future talent from when it suited them, who conveniently overlooked any question of loyalty and integrity when they were poaching another club’s talent, who waved the money, the flash cars and probably lied to some extent about their future chances of becoming a trophy winning team at some point in the not too distant future. Raheem Sterling took the bait then and believed everything that he was promised. Yet he now finds himself in a club with no Champions League football and after over 4 years at the club no nearer to realistically winning anything than QPR.
The club has no integrity, their owner personally proclaimed himself to be a liar, not in private, but in front of the global sports media. They have openly broadcast to the world that their word means nothing. So how can they expect any kind of trust and respect from their employees? This is a club so wrapped up in its own delusional arrogance that you have to ask the question, why would someone with huge talent who could probably join any of the premium football teams in Europe, enhance his earning potential in a more savoury and trusting environment where the owners and the manager speak the truth and work with honesty, not look towards another employer with fluttering eye lashes and open arms? I would.
There is a lesson here for us all as employers. Your brand, your reputation is incredibly valuable. It’s easy to destroy it but much harder to repair it. Liverpool cannot possibly come out of yet another public PR disaster with any positives. How can they have allowed this to happen?
PS: Raheem I’m confident that you would find an entirely different scenario at Arsenal FC and look forward to seeing you teaming up with our own creative team next season. ; )