There was once a player named Daniel Sturridge. Three years ago, he was one half of an SAS strike force with Luis Suarez at Liverpool FC. The British Special Forces reference, coined by the British media during the 2013-14 season, was well earned. Suarez and Sturridge terrorized countless defenses, successfully bombarding opposition goalmouths time and again that season. The team scored more than a 100 goals in the league, and he ended a bitter sweet season as a runner up, twice. Liverpool agonizingly lost the league to Manchester City in the final stretch, and Daniel finished behind his good friend, Suarez, in the race for the Golden Boot.
It had been another ‘nearly’ season for a player who had been identified as a great talent at a young age. At the age of 14, he was the top goal scorer and player of the season at the Nike Cup, the world’s biggest under -15 tournament. Carlos Tevez is the only other player to have achieved this. While he graduated quickly into the senior ranks at Manchester City, whose academy he joined at the age of 13 from Coventry City, his appearances were extremely limited with the likes of Darius Vassell, Elano, Robinho and Georgios Samaras ahead of him in the pecking order. He let his contract wind down at the club, and contrary to popular belief, moved to Chelsea in search of more playing time instead of money.
It is a sign of how rated he was as a player that he was one of Carlo Ancelotti’s first buys as a Chelsea manager. But if it was playing time that he desperately wanted, that wasn’t going to be forthcoming as Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and then Fernando Torres took precedence over him in the Chelsea attack.
It wasn’t until Andre Villas Boas arrived as manager in the 2011-12 season with his youth revolution that he started getting regular playing time, usually deployed as a left footed winger on the right of a 4-3-3. The fact that he ended up joint top scorer for Chelsea in the league that season along with Frank Lampard with 11 goals, highlights how much he could contribute even when he wasn’t playing in his natural position. He had always likened himself to Thierry Henry who started his career as a winger before moving into a centre forward role and saw this as a stepping stone towards that role through the middle. However, Boas was sacked towards the end of the season, and a combination of lesser playing time and injuries under replacement Roberto di Matteo and then, Rafa Benitez, meant that Sturridge was on the move again.
It wasn’t quite last chance saloon yet when Sturridge arrived at Liverpool but Brendan Rodgers warned him publicly that this could be his last chance with a big club. He did get his wish to play through the centre though, with Rodgers initially moving Suarez to the wing to accommodate Sturridge. While Suarez initially was willing to sacrifice for the team’s cause, there were soon rumblings of discontent from the star man, and Rodgers had to alternate between the two in the centre forward position. It did not help that Suarez offered a lot more in the number nine position with his willingness to work off the ball.
Suarez, of course, left for Barcelona after that ‘nearly’ season and the stage was finally set for Sturridge to take centre stage for the first time in his career. The main man at a big club. No more was he to play the supporting cast to the main actor. At this point many fans were using a variety of betting promo codes to back Sturridge to have another amazing, goals filled year at Liverpool.
Fate, cruelly, had other plans for him. In his first season with the senior team at Manchester City, and with two substitute appearances to show as a 17 year old, he suffered a hip injury which ruled him out for the rest of the year. This luck with injuries have plagued him ever since. In eleven seasons since, he has made 20 league appearances over a campaign only four times. Four consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2014. While his injury record at Manchester City and Chelsea fell under the radar, at Liverpool, as one of the main players, it was out there to the harsh glare of the public eye. Only once in six seasons has he appeared in 20 league games at the club. Maybe it was a sign when Liverpool took him on from Chelsea. He had just recovered from a hamstring injury that put him out for 11 games when he signed on. And promptly got injured again one month into his Liverpool career. The groin this time. But thankfully, only for a week. That time. Liverpool would only truly feel the effects of his injury woes from late 2013 onwards, and counting.
His appearances have been all too brief since then, both for Liverpool and England. It has been painful viewing to see England’s most gifted striker reduced to the role of perpetual bridesmaid. The constant injuries have also meant that he has lost some of the pace that accompanied the technique and twinkling feet that he still possesses.
Rodger’s prophecy about his Liverpool stint being a last chance at a big club might come true. Even though still 27, his name isn’t bandied about anymore as a target for big clubs. One wonders what he thinks of it all, being reduced to a bystander at the club where he was supposed to be the player the team would be built around after Suarez left.
His stock was still high when Klopp arrived and it must have been hard for him to be relegated to third choice front man when fit, behind Firmino and Origi. At least, Rodgers made all the right noises about how important Sturridge was to the team. Under Klopp, we have witnessed him go through the entire gamut of emotions, from puzzlement to anger to resignation and finally an acceptance of his role within the team.
To see him sulk quietly in the dugout has been as common as not seeing him there at all. Until recently, one wouldn’t even see him stretching on the sidelines as much as the others, if at all, as if he knew that the likes of Origi, Woodburn and Trent-Alexander Arnold were more likely to be called upon than him. When he does get minutes under the belt, one can see what he offers. The key that can unlock defenses that even the likes of Coutinho sometimes struggle to offer. It is a shame that he does not have the legs anymore to consistently offer what Klopp demands of his number nine.
It has been the story of his career, really. The footballing gods have ensured that his stars are never all aligned. When he was young and fit, he didn’t get the opportunities. When he did get the opportunities, he was usually played out of position. When he got his chance to play in his preferred position, he was more often in the treatment room than on the pitch. And finally, when he may be putting his fitness problems behind him, albeit temporarily and with fingers crossed, he has a manager who wishes he had the legs he had at the beginning of his career.
It has been a shame that one of the most naturally talented English footballers of his generation has played so little for someone who has spent more than a decade in the Premier League. There is some irony to be found in his travails, though. He has won the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup, the holy trinity of success markers for an English club footballer.
Maybe the Gods haven’t been all that unkind after all. Maybe in denying him the time on the pitch to create a lasting legacy of footballing moments, they’ve compensated him with the medals and trophies.
Sturridge and Liverpool have probably come a full circle though. In some ways, his frustrations mirror those of the club. Both of them have past glories to look back upon, but recent seasons have been a case of more false dawns than one would care to experience. Him with his injuries, and the club with their pursuit of success.
He has been the nearly man at the nearly club. Maybe a clean break will be beneficial for both. Liverpool will live long in the memories of football fans, but it would be a travesty if a player of Sturridge’s calibre and natural ability were consigned to a mere footnote in the annals of modern English football.
One thing is for sure. Next season will decide if he glides back into the spotlight or drifts further into the shadows and finally into obscurity. Fans will hope that the footballing gods have had their fun and will finally align the stars in favour of Daniel Sturridge. It is still too early to speak of him in the past tense.