Thriving in what might be his last chance saloon at Liverpool
While Daniel Sturridge may seem relatively youthful at only 23-years of age, the Liverpool striker’s footballing CV reads like a player at a considerably different stage of his career.
Indeed, as many of his countrymen of a similar age would give anything to ply their trade at clubs of the stature such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, Sturridge has of course now played for all three.
To rack up such an impressive array of clubs aged only 23 – including an outstanding spell at Bolton Wanderers in 2011 – says as much about the talent that Sturridge possesses as well as the lingering frustration that seems to have stalked his career since he first burst onto the scene at Manchester City.
In terms of his short Anfield career, it’s been very much a case of so far, so good and it’s fair to say that supporters in the red half of Merseyside have been pleasantly surprised with the immediate quality of play they’ve seen from their new £12million signing.
Yet although his lack of match practice this season is something that will afford him patience from the Anfield crowd, if indeed he needs it, his birth certificate can no longer be used as a shield from critique. Because while there’s every chance that Sturridge can go on to flourish and develop into the player that so many believe he can under Brendan Rodgers, he must now show why the Ulsterman deemed it worthy to shell out an eight-figure transfer fee.
At 23, it’s hardly last chance saloon for Sturridge’s top flight career, although should he stutter at Anfield, he may well have run out of chances with the Premier League’s top clubs.
Given his current 100 per cent record of three goals in his first three games for Liverpool, there’s no reason to think why Sturridge can’t finally start to lay down some foundations as an established Premier League forward. Within Rodgers, Sturridge appears to have found a manager that believes in his ability and bar a disastrous run of events, he may well have found some all-important stability too.
It’s been all too easy to pick holes in Sturridge’s development, but the managerial merry-go-round that’s been almost permanently in place since he arrived at Stamford Bridge as a 19-year-old, has hardly been an environment to cultivate a promising young talent.
The recent appointment of Rafa Benitez in November represented the fourth manager that Sturridge had played under in little over three years and for a young player looking to make his mark in the team, Abramovich’s game of managerial musical chairs proved a chastising obstacle.
And if the continuous changing of management wasn’t enough for Sturridge to contend with, the looming £50million figure of Fernando Torres proved ultimately to be the immovable object. His inability to supplant the Spaniard, even when clearly outperforming him while they were both in the team, perhaps tells you all you need to know about the fairness of the battle he was trying to fight.
Amongst all his difficulties to really shift his career into second gear at Stamford Bridge however, Sturridge hasn’t always done everything to necessarily help his cause. And if he’s going to really kick on under Brendan Rodgers, he has to show that he’s matured from the often-frustrating attacking outlet that we saw during his time in West London.
His proponents will tell you that his reputation as a greedy striker is as flawed as it is illogical. After all, the greatest strikers to have adorned this league didn’t rack up dozens of goals by harnessing a soft approach in front of goal. But even if such a labelling might ring a little unfair in terms of his finishing, it certainly wasn’t an urban myth in terms of the rest of his game.
Played out of position or not, Sturridge’s tendency to needlessly hang on to the ball and overindulge in the unnecessary, saw him all too often concede possession for his side. When playing on loan at Bolton, Sturridge could get away with being a little more self-centred on the ball and slightly more reserved in his work ethic.
At a club such as Chelsea or now Liverpool however, Sturridge simply isn’t going to get away with careless individual displays. With a bigger club comes bigger responsibilities and he must learn that knocking a goal away doesn’t give him a free ticket for the rest of the game. When the goals dried up at Stamford Bridge last season, along with it went some of his support, as his overall contribution to the side fell well short of the required standard.
Yet whenever Sturridge has been played in an environment built around extracting the best out of him, he’s generally tended to pay his managers back with goals and that’s always going to be the overwhelming trait of his game that he’ll be judged upon. Brendan Rodgers will give him that platform, but he’s got to pay his manager back with the unrelenting work ethic which comes as standard for those playing in his side.
Daniel Sturridge has all the tools needed to succeed at Liverpool and this time round, he seems to finally have found the all-important ingredient of managerial backing. Yet alongside that backing now comes a sense of palpable expectation, with no excuses left and nowhere remaining for him to hide. His time is now; let’s finally see what he’s made of.