THE dust has settled on England’s 1-1 draw in their Euro 2016 opener versus Russia. That all-too-familiar sense of deflation and disillusion with the national side has resurfaced in the wake of Vasili Berezutski’s 92nd-minute equaliser to earn the Russians a point right at the very death. Given England’s dominance over the 90 minutes, failure to see out what should have been a comfortable victory against opposition of dire quality was criminal.
It seemed perplexing that Hodgson would not utilise the pace of Jamie Vardy, fresh from firing Leicester City to the most unlikely Premier League title in English football history, against a pair of Russian centre-backs with a combined age of 69 years. The decision to withdraw Wayne Rooney on 78 minutes was equally bizarre, given the England captain’s vast experience and highly-accomplished performance on the night, until that point.
All this, with very little mention of one man in particular – Daniel Sturridge. Much of the attention was on the absence of Vardy. Even Marcus Rashford’s name has been mentioned by some ahead of Sturridge. Why, therefore, have the English media seemingly forgotten all about the Liverpool man? If reports from the Daily Mirror are to be believed, Sturridge could be in line for a ‘shock start’ on Thursday for England’s crunch-time clash with Wales, following Harry Kane’s flat display on Saturday night.
Let’s draw attention to the phrasing used – ‘shock start’. This isn’t just about one report from the Mirror. It is reflective of a wider narrative used when talking about Sturridge by the English media and football fans in general. Many were even questioning his initial inclusion in England’s 23-man squad for the tournament. The idea of him starting ahead of ‘fairytale’ man, Jamie Vardy, seems absurd to a large body of supporters.
Why, therefore, does a player of Sturridge’s undoubted ability remain so widely underappreciated by so many? The evidence of his quality is absolutely unequivocal. 43 goals and 12 assists in 69 Premier League appearances for Liverpool. A Premier League goals-per-game ratio of 0.62 – that’s exactly the same as Luis Suarez and better than the likes of Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie. The fastest player to reach 20 goals in Liverpool history.
Last season alone, despite still building up full-match fitness after several lengthy injury lay-offs, Sturridge still managed a better goal-per-game ratio (0.74) than both Vardy (0.69) and Kane (0.67). He is, quite simply, a phenomenal striker. Sturridge is not just a goal machine either. His intelligent movement, ability to drop deep and link play, as well as carving out chances for his teammates is almost unparalleled in the Premier Leag
It is an argument that shouldn’t have to be made every single time Sturridge’s credentials are called into question. The idea that being ‘injury prone’ renders him, in some way, a lesser player is a lazy and cheap argument which ignores the simple fact that for the past four months, Jürgen Klopp has had Sturridge absolutely injury-free and approaching peak physical condition.
Sturridge possesses a level of skill and technique arguably of a higher level than any other player in the England squad. Take his goal against Sevilla in the Europa League final, for instance. A curling, 20-yard strike with the outside of his left boot, with hardly any backlift. The technique of that finish was something only a handful of players are capable of producing.
Perhaps it is Sturridge’s temperament which has been perceived as moody or selfish and why he has rarely received the same praise Kane and Vardy have been lavished with this past season. Some call him arrogant. Others call him lazy. It’s almost as if football supporters and the media seek out reasons to play down Sturridge’s ability.
Quite frankly, it is astounding. Such is the football culture which surrounds the national team, strong narratives are generated over certain individuals, informing general opinion which shapes how players are viewed. We see it all the time with the amount of stick Jordan Henderson regularly receives from those who still haven’t realised he is, in actual fact, a very good footballer. ‘Boring’ James Milner is another one who falls victim to mainstream narratives.
England supporters might do well to abandon these disparaging stereotypes and start to appreciate good footballers for what they are. This isn’t merely a Liverpool-biased plea, rather an attempt to highlight an issue which is prevalent among supporters of the national team. Naturally, as a Liverpool supporter, I want to see our players recognised for their ability and perform well. And, as it happens, I struggle to invest emotionally in the national side under Roy Hodgson.
However, if England are to progress in Euro 2016, it might be an idea for fans and the media to start getting behind their players rather than using club-based biases to denigrate individuals. If England supporters can’t recognise that they are fortunate to have a player of Sturridge’s quality representing the country then that’s their loss. Us Liverpool fans will be right behind him if he gets the nod. We all know exactly what he’s capable of.