Liverpool look set to clinch the signing of Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge just as soon as the January transfer window reopens, but given the question marks over his temperament, his fluctuating form recently and the size of the fee required to secure his signature, are the club taking a big risk on the England international?
Brendan Rodgers moved to deny the suggestion that any move for Sturridge was hinging on the condition that the 23-year-old be assured of a central striking role in the side, and with Luis Suarez doing so well there at the minute, while there is an obvious need for more strength in depth up top and out wide, the starting eleven is doing reasonably well without him at the moment.
The reports linking Sturridge with such ludicrous demands are part and parcel of the game, especially at this time of the year when the preamble to January leaves the media with little in the way of concrete news to report on with regards to transfers, but the fact that it was believed by some just serves to highlight the reputation that the player has garnered for himself in recent times.
The company line is that if Sturridge was half as good as he thinks he is then he would be some player, but question marks are often raised concerning his mentality, with many quick to write him off solely down to his character. As far as I can tell, while he is clearly far too selfish at times in certain situations, there’s little evidence of this so-called debilitating arrogance that many use as a stick to beat him with. Of course, that is not to say that he isn’t arrogant, but show me a centre-forward that isn’t.
So far, the deal which looks pretty much complete and will see the Merseyside club fork out the best part of £12m for their man having already completed a medical in advance of the window, even if the switch has been met with a lukewarm response by fans. The general feeling is that while he can occasionally be a dangerous player, that he lacks consistency and that the fee is somewhat inflated due to his status as an Englishman with a bit of talent.
His ego has routinely been cited as a reason for his lack of effectiveness under Roberto Di Matteo and Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge, but there are just as many reasons to be optimistic that his move could be a success at Anfield and just the ticket for Rodgers young and hungry side.
His six-month loan spell at Bolton back in 2010-11 saw Sturridge torment defenders with his pace and ability to beat a man in a one-on-one situation to the tune of eight goals in 12 appearances, all largely coming from a central position, further backing up his protestations that much like Theo Walcott, while he is capable of playing out wide on the wing, he’s best utilised through the middle.
His return to Stamford Bridge saw him flourish in a wide left position as part of a front three under Andre Villas-Boas, but his form tailed off due to a lack of a clearly defined role under Di Matteo and he became more and more marginalised, eventually missing out on England’s Euro 2012 squad, something which seemed extremely unlikely just a few short months earlier. His two goals for Team GB at this summer’s Olympic Games, though, gave further proof that there is clearly something there in Sturridge worth pursuing.
It’s no coincidence that the two times that Sturridge has been afforded an assured first-team place and a regular starting berth in the top flight that he’s performed very well and been consistent, if a little frustrating at times in front of goal. While allegations of his arrogance may be lazily flung in his direction, there is clearly an element of self-doubt in him that in order to perform to the best of his abilities, that he needs to be made to feel loved. He will no doubt get both at Liverpool.
That is not to say that he’s been unfairly treated at Chelsea, for his performances since the turn of the year haven’t really merited anything other than a bit-part role, but nobody seemed to suffer more from Villas-Boas’ sacking than him, with Di Matteo returning to the tried and tested old guard to see the club through a difficult period at the tunr of the year.
There’s been a considerable lack of progress from Sturridge in the last few months and his career has stalled in a similar way to that of Adam Johnson while he was at Manchester City, but a move to Sunderland looks to be slowly but surely changing that. He still has plenty left to prove despite having already played for two of the last three Premier League champions in his short career so far.
He has been casually labelled an egotist and it’s a tag that’s stuck much to his detriment, but Rodgers’ 4-3-3 system depends heavily on everyone in the side working hard off the ball to close down space and win it back quickly; any lack of effort in the second half of the season will likely earn him a stinging rebuke from his new boss just as it did with Stewart Downing earlier this season.
His decision-making in the final third can at times be questionable, while there was a reason why Rodgers only wanted him on loan in the summer, with the size of the fee something of a gamble, but needs must and the lack of dependable striking talent in Liverpool’s threadbare squad necessitates a move for someone of Sturridge’s ilk; he is young, direct, versatile and pacy and he would appear to suit the formation and style of play well.
Moving to Anfield is hardly a pressure-free environment, but with expectations being dampened to such an extent that a top-eight finish will be seen as a decent achievement for the club this term, then the timing could suit Sturridge and there would be considerably less pressure on him to it the ground running right from the start, given his lack of playing time so far this season. He has it all still to prove, and while he’s undoubtedly a little on the pricey side, there is certainly a reason to suspect that he could prove a good purchase for Liverpool in both the long and short-term.