‘Of course it is more difficult for me to play wide. I’m a centre-forward. In the modern day game you have to try and be flexible but everyone knows my best position. Everyone knows where I enjoy playing the most. I’m a player who plays on instinct, and in the middle I have clarity on movements and things that I have been doing for years. I am on autopilot there. You just do things because you are used to doing it. But when you are out wide, you have got to worry about different things. It’s just a different way. The way you move, the way you play – it is all different. You can’t play the same as you do as a centre-forward.’
And there it is. The quote that sparked a myriad of pieces on Daniel Sturridge’s attitude, fitness and ability to fit into Jurgen Klopp’s preferred system of playing Roberto Firmino as a central striker with Sturridge coming in from wide. To me that whole brouhaha could be characterised as a headline of ‘Man Answers Question Honestly.’
The most interesting word in that quote is ‘autopilot’. Daniel Sturridge plays on instincts. Give him a ball ten yards out and he’ll find a corner. Give it to him with his back to goal and often as not he’ll find a way to hurt you. On the other hand, put him in front of a full back coming in from the side and he’s facing a whole host of problems – ones that he’s not used to right now and that’s his point. He’s not used to playing there. That’s what he said.
For some reason this is grounds to castigate him. ‘He doesn’t press enough,’ ‘he’s lazy,’ ‘he doesn’t fit into Klopp’s preferred system’ and such guff. We’re all forgetting one important thing about Daniel Sturridge.
It is this.
He’s fucking brilliant.
Absolutely fucking brilliant.
We all know that really but it gets lost in the clamour to zealously agree with the manager – as if it’s a permanent position he’s been asked to play.
I like Roberto Firmino. I really do. Mostly because he mystifies me. I don’t know if he’s a striker or a 10 or even a wide man in a three behind the striker but there’s something good about him. I’m yet to see him shine for 90 consecutive minutes but I love any player who goes quiet and suddenly changes the game.
But put any player in the Liverpool squad in Sturridge’s boots against Seville and tell him to do what he did in that glorious first half second and see how far you get. They’re all talented but that goal was more than that. It was – his word – instinct. It was magic dust. It was impudence. It was genius. And, importantly, it’s rare in any player. Oh, so rare.
Yet there seems to be a quality about Daniel that people don’t like. Ian Wright recently said that he should learn to smile more on the pitch as it will improve his body language. What arse gravy that is! Sturridge can walk around with a tittylip for the rest of his life as long as he’s scoring regularly for the Reds. And what, pray, would the outcome be if he was playing in a position which he had yet to master, was unhappy but smiled his face off throughout. Then he would be accused of doing it for the money and simply running down the contract.
An angry Sturridge, or at least a disappointed one, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He learns quickly and loves playing football so would change accordingly. Look at his performance when he came back from his injury in 2015 as a sub against West Ham. He ran every ball down, harried defenders and generally worked his arse off. The result? It took him just twelve minutes to score a goal. Twelve whole minutes.
Many think he has an attitude problem but that’s far from the case. Sturridge grew up in Birmingham where gangs roamed the streets. He wanted nothing to do with that culture and this quote reveals a lot about his character.
“Why closed-off? I think it is down to childhood. When you grow up in certain environments, you can’t be too loud or too open because you can be exposed to things you don’t want to be exposed to.”
In other words, keep your head down and work hard. Don’t go looking for trouble. Don’t get above yourself.
So much of that resonates with the Liverpool culture too. There’s a famous story of Jamie Carragher being lambasted by his mates when he took out his wallet after a meal. They had no problem with him paying for them but, to them, a wallet was a bit posh. A bit wool. Showing off.
Sturridge has clearly has had a similar upbringing, but backs himself in terms of his ability. He’s no shrinking violet as this reply when asked if he was nervous when about to face Mats Hummels testifies.
“I’m at his level, so I don’t look at him as anyone who’s bigger than me or better than me or I’m in awe.
“Not at all. He’s the same as me. We face players at the top level in the Premier League – it’s the best league in the world.”
He’s right too. He believes his skill is God given and works hard at it. So what if he doesn’t Jimmy Bullard his way through the game, Ian? So what if doesn’t make out it’s a panto? He’s got a League to win and he’s going to be disappointed if he doesn’t get to help in that endeavour.
It’s important to remember in that opening quote that he expressed a preference, not a demand. He’s not complaining. Just answering a question.
The number of world class players is finite and we certainly have one in Daniel Sturridge. He is neither lazy nor grumpy. He’s just a brilliant footballer trying to work around a system that will bring rewards to Liverpool Football Club and surely that’s what we all want.