With Liverpool struggling in the league at the mid-way mark of last season, it was a given that the club would be linked with a host of potential players to be signed in a bid to turn the season around. This idea was aided by the board who had publicly promised that our attacking options would be strengthened; bringing an air of expectation amongst fans that big-name players would be recruited.
Instead, and to the disgust of most fans (and I say most with confidence), the player we signed was Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge, who had failed to make any sort of meaningful impression in London and had cost the club a hefty sum of £12 million.
During his time with the Blues, and from his days as a City youngster, Sturridge had gained the reputation of being an arrogant player with a selfish streak – a streak that often overshadowed the raw talent he possessed. He was often seen as a player who needed to be the centre of attention and who would throw his toys went things went against him. It was a reputation not without merit either, as a number of previous managers who worked with the striker had all made similar mention of the Englishman’s flaws.
But, the deal was done and Liverpool fans had to hope that Brendan Rodgers knew what he was doing by signing the Birmingham-born Sturridge. Thankfully, he hit the ground running and immediately formed a brilliant partnership with Luis Suarez, and, it was in this partnership that he won many fans over by showing that perhaps he wasn’t the player he was made out to be.
Since then he has continued his form in spectacular fashion and has gone on to become the fastest Liverpool player to score 20 goals for the club – beating the likes of Fernando Torres, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler (amongst others) in the process.
Possibly his biggest contribution for the club came in the absence of Luis Suarez following the Uruguayan’s suspension for his controversial biting incident with Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, in which Daniel very successfully led the Liverpool attack. Ironically though, it has been Suarez’s return that has illuminated the dark side which evidently still exists within Sturridge.
For months I had been fighting with myself, trying to convince my brain that Sturridge was in fact a team player and that my views of him were horribly misguided. Liverpool’s last two matches, however, have cleared all doubts I might have had and convinced me that Sturridge is in fact the same player he was before he joined us, and that at some stage it might come back to haunt us.
The first of the matches I’m referring to is our 4-1 thumping of West Brom last week – a match in which everyone witnessed Luis Suarez tear the Baggies apart and grab himself a hat-trick. The number 7 could easily have added to his tally had his strike partner shown the same connection with him as he had in matches gone by. Instead, Sturridge seemed to react negatively to the limelight being shone on Suarez (and not on him) and it was almost as though he made a point of not passing the ball to his counter-part, instead, opting to take on opportunities alone or look for support elsewhere.
I let it slide though, thinking that perhaps I was imagining things or looking for a reason not to like him – that was until the Arsenal game.
The Arsenal game this past weekend was our biggest of the season thus far. Hopes were high and many believed that a win would put us right up there as genuine title contenders. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be though. The result was a huge disappointment and though I could go off for hours on where I think we went wrong, it’s not what I’m here for.
Instead, my attention is focused solely on that man Sturridge and on two instances in the match that made me worry that perhaps I am right about him. The first took place in the second half with Liverpool already trailing 2-0. Suarez broke through the Gunner’s defence, cut inside and then, though he had Sturridge in support, attempted a shot which narrowly missed the Arsenal goal. Sturridge furiously reacted to this, holding his arms out to Suarez, who had every right to go for goal, in disgust. Moments later, and this is the second instance, Sturridge received a ball going forward, turned, and then hoofed what appeared to be an attempted cross to absolutely no one and out of play. His whole demeanor had suddenly changed and it was as though he was challenging someone to remark on his error.
Perhaps it was the pressure of the match that had gotten to him or maybe it was a reflection of frustration at the team’s poor showing. Either way it was a display that continued what appears to be a growing trend in the attitude of the England international.
Don’t get me wrong – Sturridge is one of the most talented players in the league at the moment and is probably one of the most technically gifted strikers around. My problem with him, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, lies in the mental side to his game. Some will say that if he’s scoring they don’t care if he’s being selfish which is fair enough, but he isn’t always going to score and it is in those times – like the Arsenal game – where the mentality he has will end up costing us points or even worse, causing trouble amongst his teammates.
Perhaps I am missing the mark completely with Sturridge – it won’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about a player, and quite frankly, I hope I am. An in form Sturridge is an absolute asset to Liverpool so I can only hope that he can keep his attitude (whether real or a figment of my imagination) in check.
Liam Bekker – @BekkersBlog