Rodgers refuses to be drawn on hellish trip to Zenit for Liverpool's black players
22:30 GMT, 20 December 2012
Liverpool have been handed the Europa League trip from hell after being paired with Zenit St Petersburg in the round of 32.
A group of Zenit supporters sparked outrage this week when they published a manifesto calling for 'all non-European' and 'sexual minorities' to be 'barred from playing for the club'; Zenit remain the only Russian club never to have signed an African player.
The manifesto, which Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti quickly distanced himself from, also has a sinister sentence that declares that 'black players are being imposed on Zenit almost by force'. it prompted former Blackburn defender Christopher Samba to label Zenit fans 'racist'.
Steering clear: Brendan Rodgers had nothing to say about the manifesto produced by Zenit's fans
It promises to be an uncomfortable trip for Liverpool, who could travel with as many as five high-profile black players in their squad – Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom could yet be joined by January targets Tom Ince and Daniel Sturridge.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers refused to discuss in detail the prospect of what might happen on the trip next February.
He said: ‘It is a good draw for us. We have had experience of playing in Russia (this season against Anzhi Makhachkala). I think it was important that we go there as group winners as it means we play the second leg at home. They are a good side and they have invested a lot of money in their team.’
When pressed about the publication of the manifesto, Rodgers replied: ‘I haven’ t given it any thought at this stage. I’ve got my own personal view but that’s for nearer the time. I’ve seen that come out but I’ve got nothing to say on it.’
Liverpool have only had two incidents of their players being racially abused in recent years. Emile Heskey was targeted in Kiev in 2002, while Djibril Cisse was abused three years later in Sofia during a Champions League qualifier.
When Gerard Houllier took Liverpool to face Spartak Moscow in October 2002, he said he would take his players off the pitch during the game if they were subjected to racist chanting but it passed without incident.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has challenged Raheem Sterling to show he will be worthy of another contract in five years’ time, as the England winger prepares to rubberstamp his protracted first major deal.
It is expected Liverpool will formally
announce Sterling has committed his future to the club in the next 24
hours. His representatives shook hands on a deal on Wednesday that will
see him earn around 30,000 per week for the next five years.
In action: Luis Suarez trains ahead of Liverpool's clash with Fulham
The most racist club in football
Zenit St Petersburg’s fans have one of the worst reputations for racism in world football. Here are some of the reasons why…
Olympique Marseille players complain of being racially abused after facing Zenit in a UEFA Cup tie. Before the final in Manchester, manager Dick Advocaat says: ‘I would be happy to sign anyone, but the fans don’t like black players.’
Zenit are fined $10,000 after one of their supporters offers Brazilian full back Roberto Carlos a banana before a Russian Premier League match against Anzhi Makhachkala.
Zenit fan club Landscrona writes in an open letter: ‘We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.’
Though Rodgers is thrilled that the business has reached a successful conclusion, he has made it clear that he will not tolerate Sterling sitting back and thinking he has done enough; Rodgers has pointed out that Sterling is not yet at senior level.
‘He hasn't joined those ranks, don't worry about that,’ said Rodgers. ‘He has been rewarded as a young player who, at 17 years of age, has come in and performed very well. He will never be elevated above his position here at the club.
‘There is a lot of development and a lot of nurturing to go yet, but he has been rightly rewarded and it is fantastic for the football club. If you play for a big club there is always going to be expectation. For young Raheem we need to help manage those expectations.
If you go into a lot of clubs as a young
player it is a nice little journey. If you go in at one of the biggest
clubs in the world it is magnified one million per cent. It is our job
to nurture him and educate him and there is still so much for him to
learn. He hasn't long left school.’
New deal: Youngster Raheem Sterling has agreed terms with the club
Rodgers added: ‘It is not only football education he needs but life education as well. We will support him in that and make sure the expectancy is at the correct level. I always congratulate players when they sign a new contract and then I warn them.
‘I tell them they need to decide after this contract whether there is going to be another contract at one of the biggest clubs in the world or whether it will be at a different level.’
Liverpool remain confident of completing a deal for Ince despite Blackpool saying they have rejected an offer from Anfield for the England Under-21 international.