DANIEL Sturridge is injured, again. He is reported to be out for an unknown period of time, again. He is likely to be absent for the remainder of a crucial period for Liverpool Football Club when they could really do with having him fit and firing, again. All of the Sturridge narratives are afoot, again.
The sense of frustration and not knowing whether to laugh or cry is all too familiar and, for the most part, justified, the underlying reasoning for such feelings however are all too muddled in their variance. There are players past and present who have ‘shook The Kop’, players who have felt a collective love from the fans and those who have been met with rejection and apathy; there are those rare individuals, like Lucas Leiva, who have endured both the rejection and embrace of Liverpool fans over an evolving period of time. There are very few, however, who have divided opinion and drew such varied perceptions from the fan base in same manner in which Sturridge has in his time at Liverpool.
All of this now has wider, more destine implications going forward. As Andy Hunter wrote in The Guardian; the question will now be asked whether Sturridge has kicked his final ball as a Liverpool player. All indications assume this will be the case. This throws up all kinds of questions, all kinds of emotions, all kinds of narrative.
A sense of warmth prevails, here.
On August 24, 2013, I travelled to Villa Park with a friend who I’d not seen for a while. Our pre-game amble to the Midlands was filled with nostalgia, catching up and very little football talk apart from when we looked at the team walking to the ground.
“He’s shite, Sturridge,” were his first words to me about the match. I had suddenly remembered how long this friend had been out of my life. I didn’t support this statement in any way shape or form and anyone really close to me who did would have endured constant belligerence and hostility for such an opinion. I kept my council until Jose Enrique rifled a low pass across the edge of the box and Sturridge majestically feigned left and right with the ball at his feet until a body of defenders and Brad Guzan lay in his wake and he lifted the ball off his foot and into the roof of the net. A goal that had Lionel Messi scored it, would be used to plug endless adverts and media campaigns to emphasise all the perceived beauty the game holds.
I turned to my friend: “He’s not, you know, Ged.” A reply so simplistic and effortless it was on par with how Sturridge had made the goal look.
A sense of reverence prevails, here.
The 2013-14 season is arguably going to be held as the halcyon of Sturridge’s Liverpool career. It is arguably the period which embodies the most divisive of Sturridge subjects. To write this, I had a look back at his 25 goals from that season, the memories are both evangelical and, in truth, exasperatingly sad. You can look at his goals that are so ridiculous in quality you have to remember how a stadium full of people erupted with hysteria and laughter at the sheer audacity at some of them. There’s Sturridge chipping a 6ft-plus ‘keeper, who is by no means advanced from his line, from about 20-odd yards — ha. There’s Sturridge lobbing the ball high up and down into the Anfield Road net while Tim Howard starfishes helplessly like some over-zealous extra in the theatrical production of a Liverpool masterpiece, Sturridge stands deadpan reminding Evertonians just what their misguided assurance has resulted in yet again — ha, ha. There’s Sturridge keeping the ball up in the six-yard box on a rainy night in Stoke before lashing it home, there’s the arms — ha, ha, ha.
My point is simple on this; watch it back, because it feels like we all need to. Watch it back and do not dare tell me Sturridge was a product of Luis Suarez’s brilliance, don’t tell me any of them were. Sturridge is worth more to our memories than this. He was absolutely unplayable for that season, but this wasn’t a player who you felt was playing above his level which in some ways you did with Emile Heskey in 2000-1. This was a lad who was at his level and knew it. This is where he belonged with an able body. Don’t question it, just give him the ball and watch him dance while we dance with him. This is what we say when we talk about real quality footballers we’ve been lucky enough to witness in the flesh. In every sense, Sturridge was a worthy Liverpool forward, and we all knew it.
A sense of misfortune prevails, here.
It is September 2014; Sturridge is on England duty under the care and supervision of Roy Hodgson. Less than 48 hours after Sturridge had starred against Norway, he was asked to train again. Let’s contextualise this; he wasn’t asked to take part in a recovery session, he was asked to sprint repeatedly, much to the horror and despair of the Liverpool medical staff who advised vehemently against such action.
Sturridge was predictably injured; it can be argued it was the worst injury of his career in terms of the recurring effect it has had on his body and the timing of it. The timing is important, this was a time when Suarez had left the club and Liverpool’s dalliances in the transfer market with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli had unfairly placed an onus and responsibility on an already fragile Sturridge to be the primary breadwinner on a regular basis. When he broke down here through no fault of his own, he was martyrized, Liverpool fans hanging on every possible shred of positive news about his return and a transference of feelings that things would be OK when he came back were stored into one person, a person whose body simply means he should never be relied on so intensely, more to be enjoyed when he is able.
The problem has been that with every injury since, the perception of the player has changed dramatically. A subconscious feeling that this is somehow his fault, that leads into some misconceived unprofessionalism, has been wholly unfair. The player did not ask to be injured, nor did he ask to be paid the amount of money he has been paid by Liverpool for a reward the club clearly felt his talents merited.
The issue is and remains that Sturridge can no longer run, and as mentioned earlier, that is one of the most desperately sad things about watching his pre-September 2014 brilliance. The sight of him twisting and turning Crystal Palace players inside out and sprinting in behind Arsenal defenders with the kind of agility that no longer exists is deeply saddening, especially when compared to seeing him in a League Cup semi-final at Anfield this season, chasing a ball that he barely stops from going out for a goal-kick that he would have probably met on the edge of the box and slotted home imperiously in times gone by.
A sense of misconception prevails, here.
There is always, unfortunately, going to be the perception that Sturridge lacks the ability to be humble, to have the working class humility that other Anfield demigods have had in the past. The reasons remain as unknown as on the day he joined. In a city that is polluted by urban myths and rumours on a daily basis, I can honestly say I’ve never heard one that backs up this notion that Sturridge is anything but a decent lad, a lad who enjoys his life and maybe has tastes that differ to others, but that shouldn’t, and I’d like to think doesn’t, come into play here.
My abiding memories of Sturridge the person are of someone who gets out of his car to do the arms with a gang of youngsters outside Anfield, who constantly stops for photos in the city centre and looks all too happy to speak to people, who laughs at opposition fans who give him the usual verbals.
This stretches to team-mates also. Try not smiling when Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are arms entwined smiling and pointing at each with adulation as to who deserved credit for his first against Arsenal in the 5-1 home win, like some kind of comedic duo or brothers in arms enjoying being at this point in their lives together. Again, I struggle to find one quotable team-mate or manager, previous or current, who has questioned primarily the attitude of the player. There have been quotes from Steven Gerrard and Jürgen Klopp in regards to desire, but opinions on these quotes are solely based on the context in which you view them. To me, they were always tinged with the feeling Sturridge portrayed someone who didn’t trust his own body and therefore wasn’t always mentally willing or able if he felt he couldn’t give his absolute all. Is this really something to overly criticise him for? If Klopp’s example with Mamadou Sakho is to be referenced, Sturridge or anyone else who was selfish or a negative influence would have been castigated and marooned in the same way the Frenchman has been.
The thing that annoys me more than anything on this is that the same people who will question Sturridge’s perceived cockiness and attitude are the same ones who will slaughter Divock Origi for not displaying enough of the same mental resolve and self-assuredness we have seen from Sturridge in recent years. You can’t have it both ways. And ask yourself what you’d rather have going forward; the player who backs himself and feels comfortable in the jersey, or a shrinking violet who wants to be anywhere but the football pitch when responsibility is bestowed upon them? I know what I’d rather see from a player in Liverpool red.
The point is this: if this is the end of Sturridge’s Liverpool career, have a think, actually stop and think, of whatever sense of emotion prevails when he comes to mind before letting it pass. Think of every sinew of goodness, alongside the odd bad moment, before encapsulating all of your yesterdays into one lazy narrative about a player that you once laughed and danced with at his complete disregard for the pale, his tendency for the spectacular and at every bit of his self-assured complete class you ever witnessed.
Remember that he deserves, at least, this much.