It feels like it’s been a long time coming. Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career has been in steady decline for some time now and a parting of ways has seemed increasingly inevitable. Tonight, his loan move to West Bromwich Albion has been confirmed and in truth, he’ll almost certainly never pull on the Red jersey again.
It’s a move which makes perfect sense from the player’s perspective. He wasn’t getting regular minutes under Jürgen Klopp and at 28 he will want to be playing as much football as possible before he enters the twilight of his career. West Brom offers him that opportunity where he will be the undisputed star player, tasked with firing in the goals to keep the Baggies safe from relegation.
He’s a player with a point to prove and will be looking to force his way back into the England squad ahead of the World Cup in the summer, which will surely be his last chance to play in a major international tournament.
Born in Birmingham and with several family members living in the city, it’s very easy to see why the move was an attractive proposition for Sturridge. He deserves it, after all.
His Liverpool career is one which contained some sensational high points, and yet the overriding feeling is a sense of what might have been. Arriving from Chelsea in January 2012 for £12.5 million, Sturridge’s arrival was met with a mixture of scepticism and cautious optimism- clearly a hugely talented individual, but without the consistency to fully establish himself at a top club.
Instantly, Sturridge made his mark, scoring within 10 minutes of his debut and from that point he never looked back. 11 goals were plundered in his first half-season at the club and it was immediately clear that Liverpool had found themselves an absolute bargain.
With Luis Suarez suspended for the beginning of the 2013-14 season, it was Sturridge who stepped up in the Uruguayan’s place to spearhead Liverpool to three consecutive 1-0 victories. Once Suarez returned, the pair struck up a phenomenal partnership which will live long in the memory, with Sturridge racking up a remarkable 24 goals in what was the finest season of his career.
There’s no doubt about it- Sturridge at his peak was right up there among the very best strikers not only in the Premier League, but in Europe. He had it all. Blistering pace, trickery, vision, intelligent movement and devastatingly clinical finishing. He scored all kinds of goals, too.
His 25-yard chip against West Brom (somewhat ironically, now) is perhaps one of the great forgotten Liverpool goals of recent times- a finish of sublime quality which never quite got the credit it deserved. Only a handful of players in the world would even consider attempting such a shot, let alone execute it to perfection.
Liverpool might have fallen at the death in their pursuit of the title, but for Sturridge, his trajectory only looked upwards. Suarez left for Barcelona in the summer of 2014 and it was up to Sturridge to take the centre stage as Liverpool’s main man.
And then the injuries set in, of almost every type imaginable. Calf, hamstring, thigh, hip. You name it. Sturridge’s body all but gave up on him. The wriggly arms became a rarer and rarer occurrence, as Sturridge managed just seven league starts in the entirety of 2014-15. It should have been the season where he cemented his world-class status and yet looking back, it signalled the beginning of the end for Sturridge as a genuinely elite centre-forward.
Despite the overwhelming notion that Sturridge was never a natural fit for the high-intensity, pressing brand of football advocated by Klopp, the German’s arrival in 2015 saw Sturridge’s game time managed effectively as the injuries appeared to dry up to a degree. Klopp quickly ensured that Liverpool would no longer be reliant on Sturridge’s fitness, opting for either Roberto Firmino or Divock Origi as his preferred choices to lead the line, but Sturridge still had an important role to play as he bagged 13 goals in what was a mini-revival, making him the top scorer for the club in 2015-16.
Scoring in the Europa League semi-final victory at Anfield against Villareal, Sturridge helped Liverpool book their place in the final against Sevilla. That night will be remembered for Liverpool’s second-half capitulation, but it was Sturridge who opened the scoring with one of the great Liverpool goals of the 20th century. A stunning, outside-of-the-boot curler from outside the box, right into the far corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any cup final and it’s a travesty that it will ultimately be cast aside given the manner in which Liverpool collapsed in the second-half.
The following season, however, Sturridge once again found himself on the periphery of Klopp’s plans, consigned to a regular place on the bench, starting only seven league games in the whole of 2016-17. Even still, he made another vital contribution in his superbly taken opening goal in the crucial 4-1 win over West Ham in the penultimate game of the season, which proved pivotal in helping Liverpool secure their top four finish and consequent return to the Champions League.
This season, Sturridge’s demise has only continued and it’s impossible to blame the player for wanting to leave given the predicament he found himself in. Two goals in two games against Huddersfield and Maribor were rewarded with virtually no further first team action, with Dominic Solanke edging ahead in the pecking order despite never having scored a senior goal in English football.
Quite clearly, Sturridge is nowhere near the player he once was. The cumulative effect of his countless injuries over the past four years has visibly resulted in the loss of his pace and acceleration of old. He no longer possesses that explosiveness and ability to burst past players like he used to. For some time, he’s looked like a player never quite fully confident in his own skin, not able to trust his own body.
You’ll rarely ever see Sturridge sprint anymore, or make penetrative runs in behind opposition defences. He’s adapted his game to become more efficient but less dynamic in his movement and while he still possesses enormous quality as a finisher, so many of the assets which temporarily made him a world-class striker have been stripped away.
It is with great sadness, therefore, that Sturridge finally leaves Liverpool with a whimper rather than one last hurrah. There will always be a feeling of considerable regret that he was never quite able to fulfil his vast potential, which he only got to show for one season. He had all the ability to become a legend at the club, but physically his body could not sustain it.
A tally of 63 goals in 133 appearances (many of which came from the bench) is, nonetheless, a record to be proud of. While there have been numerous attempts at questioning his attitude over the years, based on very little evidence, Sturridge has also shown himself to be a hugely popular figure who has always given his maximum to the cause. His loss to the dressing room will surely be significant,
Liverpool wave goodbye to one of the finest footballers to have played for the club in modern times, as well as a genuinely good-humoured and likeable personality.
It’s been a pleasure.