What we’re seeing now from Daniel Sturridge – 18 Premier League goals this season – could easily be explained by suggesting the player was always capable but just needed the trust of a manager and club.
Earlier in the season I pointed to the lack of evidence we had in concluding whether Sturridge was a consistent goal scorer or one that goes through peaks and troughs, who will hit a hot streak but who may take some time to rediscover that fortune in front of goal. Even those with established reputations in England or on the continent go through inconsistencies as strikers. The issue with Sturridge is that we really didn’t have a good understanding about the kind of player he was.
There was misfortune in the clubs he was attached to prior to arriving at Liverpool. Sturridge caught the first wave caused by Manchester City’s new owner but left before a host of big names made their way to the club. Nevertheless he remained on the peripheries amid talk of a galaxy of stars arriving in the blue half of Manchester.
Chelsea, however, is a club who many youngsters have failed to find a place, as only recently names like Oscar and Eden Hazard have established themselves, yet still had to wave off Kevin de Bruyne and perhaps Romelu Lukaku too this summer.
Chelsea’s recent history dictates that they were never a good environment to gauge whether a young player had it in him to be a star at the top of the Premier League.
But Sturridge had a promising six months at Bolton before winding up at Anfield. There he scored eight times in 12 games, adding further fuel to his already high confidence and giving him the necessary starting point in the top flight, one which was denied at both City and Chelsea.
As of now, the guidance of Brendan Rodgers has put Sturridge where some would have expected him to be. He’s not a star name; for all his scoring exploits, you feel he’s a long way off the big names on the continent pursuing him with any concrete interest.
Even for his confidence, which he clearly has in abundance, he needed someone to give him a platform that was big enough for his talents to be taken seriously. Players have done well in the smaller teams in the Premier League but have failed to manage the expectations laid upon them when moving up a tier. Sturridge had youth on his side and was offered the faith of a manager who believed his confidence was justified, that he could help lead Liverpool back to where the club feel they belong.
It wasn’t too long ago that talk of England’s World Cup campaign focused on how best to use Wayne Rooney. He’s England’s best striker – though currently not the country’s most in-form – and yet he plays his club football behind a lone centre-forward. The discussion went that moving him forward would leave Roy Hodgson without an experienced option who could take over in the No.10 role. Steven Gerrard, evidently, is past that stage in his career.
But now there is the option to continue playing Rooney in that withdrawn role. It would seem ludicrous to not name Daniel Sturridge as England’s starting centre-forward at the World Cup. Under Rodgers, he’s been taught to play one his own and with a partner alongside him in Luis Suarez.
Sturridge has shown himself to be exceptionally quick, an asset for Liverpool but also an incredibly value tool for England if conservative thinking forces a leaning on counterattacking tactics.
Sturridge’s current goal haul doesn’t look to be a fluke. He’s simply carried on where he left off from last season, his initial first six months at Anfield. If Rodgers was taking a serious look at the striker rather than just taking him on as a matter of availability and convenience, he would have been encouraged by what he saw while Sturridge was at Bolton, hallmarks of a player who can be moulded into one of the Premier League’s best.
There’s still a long way to go before Sturridge is free from the drawbacks of youthful exuberance. The selfishness to have a go at goal is slowly seeping out of his game. Though it could simply be that Sturridge, in his need to create an impression on the few opportunities he’s had over his career, was simply trying to elevate his position up the pecking order. That desire to take on shots from near-impossible angles or distances became ingrained in his thinking, which clearly has had to be coached out of him.
Sturridge isn’t a forward of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose form in front of goal is perpetual. There will be dips and even losses of total form for the Liverpool striker. Yet what we’re seeing now is a player very much capable of playing a lead role on the big stage.