Daniel Sturridge: A man in desperate need of his missing mojo - by Jason Harris
When Daniel Sturridge was signed by Brendan Rodgers in January 2013 it is fair to say he arrived as a Footballer of untapped potential, you could even say a rough diamond.
He just seemed to be one of those players which frustrate managers and supporters no end. They clearly have all the attributes to be a great player, but something was missing from their overall make-up.
He had shown glimpses of his talent at his former clubs Man City, Chelsea and when on loan at Bolton but nothing that was displayed for a sustained period of time. The fact that Chelsea were willing to sell Sturridge to one of their 'rivals' for just £12 Million showed that they had finally run out of patience with the striker.
When you put everything into the equation, it was a good bit of business by a rebuilding and soon to be title-challenging Liverpool team. Despite the inconsistent nature of his career to that moment, one thing Sturridge did not lack was self-confidence which is a sign of a good striker. He made a positive impact in the second half of the 2012/13 season and carried that form to the next campaign where he developed a lethal partnership with Luis Suarez.
The duo set a number of goalscoring records in the 2013/4 season. This included Sturridge becoming the first Liverpool player in the Premier League era to score in seven consecutive League games, (he scored 21 League goals for the season) and received due recognition by being selected in the PFA team of the year. A star was well and truly on the rise as Sturridge finally looked to be living up to his potential.
However, since his first one and a half seasons at the club where he scored 31 goals in the league, Sturridge has hit a major speed bump in the way of injury. He has scored just 14 league goals in the following two and a half seasons and that has inevitably cast doubt on his overall future at the club.
Just like explosive players such as Michael Owen and Fernando Torres, Sturridge has seen his blistering pace significantly decline due to the soft tissue injuries he has suffered over time. It is only natural that a athlete has some demons to overcome after having such a wretched run like the the 27 year-old has endured, although some close observers of Sturridge felt he lacked the mental fortitude to push through the pain barrier.
Because his body has not been able to hold up to the intense grind of first team Football, Sturridge now has a unwillingness to make those blistering runs which was a trademark of his early Liverpool days. The absence of that part of his game has made him somewhat of a passenger in Jurgen Klopp's side.
Due to this fact, he has been on the periphery of the starting line-up this season with Klopp for the most part choosing to go with a front three without a traditional out and out striker. Never one to hide his emotions, Sturridge has cut a frustrated figure when sitting on the substitutes bench and has done his case for more playing time no favours by producing lacklustre performances on the pitch. It is a long way from a couple of seasons ago where his 'wavy arm goalscoring dance' was a weekly occurrence at Anfield
The question that will now be posed is whether we are about to see the last few months of Sturridge in a Liverpool strip. The answer is not as clear cut as one may think, as players who are deemed surplus to requirements are becoming increasingly more difficult to offload as the recent Mario Balotelli and Mamadou Sahko episodes have shown.
Currently we are none the wiser in terms of what Klopp's thoughts are in regards to his future plans for the striker. He has played a very straight bat to questions regarding Sturridge saying he has been 'happy' with his recent efforts, despite his minimal impact on the scoresheet
As results continue to be on the decline, Sturridge and fellow striker Divock Origi have the opportunity to force their way into the starting lineup and present themselves as another viable option to the manager.
The Belgian has blown hot and cold this season, going on a nice scoring run in November and December, but then failing to score in ten appearances before breaking that drought on the weekend against Wolves in the FA Cup. At his best, Origi has bullied defenders with his pace and power which is deadly combination to have at your disposal. At just 21 years old he has clear potential, however his overall work rate which was a particular strength of his game last season (especially in the Europa League) has dropped off considerably in this campaign.
This is where the experienced Sturridge has to step up to the plate and make a strong case if he wants to have a future at Anfield. With his explosive pace now diminished, what he needs to do is re-invent his game to add a few more strings to his bow. It is what all the good players are able to do once they reach a specific point in their careers and that time has now come for Sturridge.
If he is looking for an example to base his career renaissance on, he needs to look no further than Jermaine Defoe. The striker was often seen earlier in his career as someone who had a bagful of pace and good goal poaching abilities, but lacking in the technical side of the game. However over time he has worked extremely hard on his all-around game and after a brief sojourn in the MLS, he has returned to the Premier League revitalised and at the age of 34 is arguably playing the best Football of his career.
In what direction Sturridge wants his own career to head down is entirely up to him. What is beyond any doubt is that his career is currently on pause and he needs to find a way to hit the play button again.
Described by many pundits as a selfish player, he has the ideal opportunity to prove the doubters wrong by turning himself into the perfect team man. Just because you didn’t put the ball into the net yourself does not mean that you had no role to play in the goal.
We may well be approaching injury time on Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career but there is nothing like a bit of late drama. Here’s hoping the “dancing man” is able to pull a few tricks out of his bag in the pivotal last few months of the season which will in turn go a long way to sealing a all-important top four birth as well as his future with the club.