Whatever happened to Daniel Sturridge?

Daniel Sturridge Liverpool FC

We all remember how the 2013/14 season ended up, Steven Gerrard had *that* slip in *that* game, allowing Demba Ba to score the winner for Chelsea. Then days later, Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead down at Selhurst part to draw 3-3, in a game subsequently nicknamed Crystalbul. This culminated in Liverpool blowing the chance to win the Premier League. After a late-season victory over Manchester City, they had one hand firmly grasped on the trophy, with captain Steven Gerrard leading a post-game huddle in which he audibly screamed “this does not slip, this does not f*****g slip!” Ironically, he slipped physically, and Liverpool slipped down to second place. This disastrous end to the season really overshadowed the great work done by Liverpool over the season, and in particular, their English striker, Daniel Sturridge. Daniel Sturridge played 33 games in all competitions in the 2013/14 season, scoring 24 goals, a truly terrific goal rate. Sturridge was playing the best football of his career, and going in to the 2014 World Cup, he had the hopes of a nation pinned to him. He had his own unique goal celebration dance move and was the star of a Subway advert. Life was going well for the young striker from Birmingham, and the sky appeared to be the limit for the striker. Now, three and a half years later, he is still at Liverpool, but for how long? He is a shadow for his former self. Injuries and bad luck have blighted his career and left him just a name on the long list of English strikers to almost fulfil his potential.

Sturridge started his career at Manchester City, the club that would go on to break his heart in 2014. Back then, Manchester City weren’t filthy stinking rich, they were, in fact, pretty awful. They had a great youth academy, one which won the Youth FA Cup in 2007-08. A young striker called Daniel Sturridge was top scorer in that competition, scoring in the first leg of the final against Chelsea. He made his first-team debut for City against Reading in February 2007. A month afterwards, he suffered a serious hip injury which kept him out for the rest of 2007. He was just a teenager at the time, but this proved to be the first of many bad injuries which hampered his career.

Sturridge fought back to be fit and scored his first professional goal for the Sky Blues in an FA Cup match against Sheffield United in January 2008. Just three days later, Sturridge earned his first league start for City, and scored his first league goal, against Derby County. He found games hard to come by in the 07/08 season but managed to earn sixteen games the following season, scoring four goals. This should have been the breakthrough season for Sturridge, but his progression was stilted by a financial takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group. They paid big money for players like Robinho, Jo and Benjani Mwaruwari, which meant that youth players such as Sturridge were taken for granted.

Sturridge was unhappy at his playing time in Manchester and decided to leave when his contract expired in 2009, as Chelsea is obviously famed for nurturing their youth products. Amazingly, he didn’t end up on loan at Vitesse, but he did end up back up north. After a decent first year at Chelsea, he went to Bolton to gain more first-team opportunities. Daniel had a fantastic start with the Trotters, grabbing a goal on his debut against Wolves in injury time, before scoring in his next three games, against Spurs, Everton and Newcastle. His game time dried up and he ended up playing only twelve matches but netted eight goals in this period. He was sent off against Manchester City in his final match for Bolton.

This red card was a stupid one for Sturridge to pick up. It meant that he was out for the first three games of his return to Chelsea. This was infuriating for new manager Andre Villas-Boas, who intended to utilise the pace of Sturridge in his new look Blues team. He was drafted into the team in a return to Bolton, whereby he scored twice and set up Frank Lampard in a 5-1 victory. He kept his scoring form up, netting against Newcastle, Wigan and Spurs, to name but a few. He tailed off towards the end of the season, with interim boss Roberto Di Matteo opting to leave him on the bench during Chelsea’s famous Champions League win against Bayern Munich.

His form at Bolton and Chelsea hadn’t gone unnoticed by Fabio Capello, who handed Studger his England debut against Sweden in 2011. Despite his excellent goalscoring form, new England coach Roy Hodgson chose to omit Sturridge from his Euro 2012 squad. Instead, he played for Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics. Sturridge scored twice in this competition, against the United Arab Emirates and then against Uruguay, before missing his decisive penalty in the shootout against South Korea.

He returned to Chelsea after the summer and played seven matches, before making another Premier League move, returning up north, this time to Liverpool. This move proved to be a big one for Sturridge, as he found himself in a title challenging team under Brendan Rodgers the season after he signed. He hit the ground running at the scouse club, scoring on his debut, in the FA Cup, scoring on his league debut against Manchester United a couple days later, then scoring on his first league start against Norwich the week after. He spent the start of his Liverpool career being played alongside Luis Suarez but spent the end of the season playing without the Uruguayan, after Suarez was banned for ten matches for biting Chelsea’s Serbian fullback Branislav Ivanovic. Liverpool were showing signs of improving under Rodgers, but the same old mistakes from previous regimes could not be so easily overridden, and the Reds slumped to thirteen draws and nine league loses on the season.

The following season was where everything simply clicked for Sturridge and Liverpool. Sturridge has been a clinical striker throughout his career. His pace can see him turn nothing into something, his tenacity can force even the best defenders to make mistakes, and his natural sense of positioning can help him find the right position at the right time to sniff out a goal. These attributes were all apparent in 2013/14. He started the season with a bang and didn’t ever look like stopping. He scored four goals in the first month of the season, as well as proving a couple of assists to Luis Suarez, earning him a player of the month accolade. He went on to break records that season, becoming the first Liverpool player to score in seven consecutive games, an outstanding feat considering some of the world-class centre forwards that have played in front of the Kop. He then scored against Swansea to become only the second Premier League player to score in eight matches on the bounce. He scored five goals in February to be named player of the month once again.

Sturridge was forming an electric partnership with Luis Suarez, with the pair scoring for fun, and setting each other up in good measure. Sturridge ended the year with a total of 21 league goals, second only to Suarez in the golden boot race, who had 31 goals in 33 games. Admittedly, Suarez scored about twenty of these against Norwich City! Sturridge missed a few games through injuries, meaning he only played 29 matches in the league. These stats should have been enough to win Liverpool their first ever Premier League title, but they bottled it towards the end. They beat title rivals Manchester City 3-2 in late April 2014 to all but seal the title, but a Steven Gerrard blunder against Chelsea and a cataclysmic breakdown against Crystal Palace saw the title slip between their fingers.

The heartbreaker for Sturridge is that he never won a trophy in that team. He won a couple of FA Cups at Chelsea, along with a Premier League and the Champions League, but he was always a squad player, a bit part, a cog in the wheel. When you talk about the teams that won those competitions, Sturridge’s name is far down that list. But if he had won the league with Liverpool that year, he would have become a legend at Anfield. After the best eighteen months of his career, it all started to unravel. It wasn’t a result of his Subway advert, but it certainly went downhill from then…

He went to World Cup 2014 with a lot of pressure on him, as is the way with England players. He was expected to lead the line, his phenomenal scoring record encouraging a fan base who were unusually pessimistic going into the tournament. England were drawn in Group D against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Daniel Sturridge started all three games, scoring in England’s opening game with an outstretched goal against Italy. Unfortunately for Sturridge, and England, that was his only goal. He was pivotal in creating Wayne Rooney’s goal against Uruguay, their second 2-1 defeat in two games. He led the line against Costa Rica, but a dejected England side, already eliminated, couldn’t find a way through.

The 2014/15 season was something of a disaster for Sturridge, and for Liverpool. Suarez picked up a four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini in the World Cup, and, despite his monumental ban, Barcelona paid a £75 million transfer fee for the Uruguayan. Liverpool reinvested a chunk of the money, but in terms of strikers, they bought Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert… This was made even worse when star striker Daniel Sturridge became plagued with injuries.

Sturridge managed only twelve appearances in 2014/15, amassing four goals in a season that was painfully stop-start for the striker. A knee injury would keep him out for three weeks, then, whilst on international duty with England, a thigh injury ruled him out for over a month. This was an injury that proved to be a real issue for Sturridge, one which would reappear over the next couple of years. The worst injury of his career would occur in March 2015, a hip injury which would see him out for over six months. This meant that he missed both the end of the season and, more concerningly for the Reds, the start of the following season. The 2014/15 season was fast becoming a write-off, but to miss the man who so nearly gave Liverpool their first ever Premier League title just one year before, that was bordering on disastrous.

Sturridge came into the 2015/16 season five weeks late, desperate to help improve on Liverpool’s 6th place finish. They brought in Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke and Danny Ings to bolster the front line and meant that Sturridge had an even fiercer battle for centre-forward than he had when he suffered his injuries the year before. He played a couple of games under Brendan Rodgers, but then suffered a knee injury which kept him out for a month. When he returned, Rodgers had gone and Jürgen Klopp, the eccentric former Borussia Dortmund manager, was in the dugout. He was on a losing battle to regain his spot after all those injuries with a boss that he already knew, but to do so with a new manager was a huge struggle. He came back from this injury and scored twice in an emphatic 6-1 win against Southampton, only to pull his hamstring in his next game. This saw him miss ten games over a busy Christmas and New Year schedule, and thus fall even further down the pecking order at Anfield.

Sturridge did play a large part towards the end of the season, contributing to their Europa League run. He scored in a tasty European derby against Manchester United at Anfield, setting up a glorious semi-final tie against Borussia Dortmund. Sturridge did not score in either leg of this tie, but it was an event for Jürgen Klopp, who had been at the helm during the revival of Dortmund. Daniel Sturridge started up front for Liverpool in the Europa League final, and he gave the Reds the lead in the first half. Philippe Coutinho fed a pass to Sturridge who stabbed the ball over the goalkeeper from the edge of the box. Once again, it was heartbreak for Sturridge in his career. He could do nothing but watch in horror as his side caved, blowing their lead to lose 3-1 to a rampant Sevilla side.

In recent years, Sturridge has simply lost his way. His hip injury has plagued him, never keeping him out for a long time, but forcing him to miss a couple of weeks here and there. As a result, he has struggled to nail down a first-team place. He is more often than not named on the bench, backing up Roberto Firmino in Klopp’s one striker system. He still has goals in his locker, however, grabbing seven last season, including four goals in four starts in the 2016/17 League Cup. He showed his worth in an England jersey, revitalising his side in a poor game against Wales at Euro 2016. He didn’t feature at all against Russia, but then came off the bench at halftime against the Welsh. He crossed in for Chris Smalling to set up the Jamie Vardy equaliser, then scored the winner two minutes into stoppage time to win. Sturridge earned starts against Slovakia and then Iceland in the last sixteen, but despite bringing an abundance of energy, was unable to score or contribute anything tangible to the games. In his defence, he is a centre-forward and was being played on the left and right wing in both starts, Roy Hodgson wasting his talent somewhat.

The career of Daniel Sturridge is a frustrating one, he has so much talent. He is fast, he is strong, he is tenacious and, above all, he is a natural born goal scorer. He is also, sadly, one of the most infamous injury prone players this generation has seen. He burst on to the scene as a youth player over ten years ago and has shown flashes of brilliance during his career. He is a Champions League winner, a league winner and an FA Cup two times winner, and yet all of these were as a bit part. He has been part of some great groups of players at Liverpool and played under two excellent coaches in Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp, but the trophies have alluded him in teams where he runs the show. He is still young, only turning 28 in September, and so there is a chance he could still win trophies and get his career back on track. His problem is, the older he gets, the longer he’ll take to recover from those injuries. His days off a “big club” move are gone, Arsenal being perhaps the only club of that ilk who may take a punt on him. Scarily, it is looking like England might be his biggest chance of winning a trophy! He will need to get a lot more football under his belt before the season is out if he wants to go to Russia in 2018, but if he does then he certainly has the goal-scoring talent to contribute in the World Cup next summer. Trophies are not the be-all and end-all in football. With a guy like Daniel Sturridge, the simple fact is that he is a great professional, a great goal scorer and above all, a great man. No matter where his career takes him, one can only hope that he shakes off those niggling injuries and can nail down some regular football.