Daniel Sturridge’s exit from Anfield has been a long time coming.
The England international finally made a move away from Liverpool this week as he signed for West Bromwich Albion on loan for the remainder of the season – and it is expected that the move will become a permanent one if all works out for him there. Quite how much the Baggies will fork out to secure him long-term remains to be seen, but he will only have a year left on his contract at the end of this campaign. So the opportunity to bring in a decent transfer fee for the twenty-eight year old looks to have passed us by.
Sturridge’s Liverpool career looked to be over the day that Jurgen Klopp took over as manager from Brendan Rodgers back in October 2015. That’s with the benefit of hindsight, of course. His physical fragility was never going to be suited to a manager who wants his players to press and work incredibly hard in each game. Sturridge needs to be wrapped in cotton wool thanks to a combination of his proneness to injury and a seemingly questionable mental fortitude. Steven Gerrard questioned whether Sturridge was able to push himself into playing when he didn’t feel fully fit and that looks to have been confirmed by the past two or three years of his career. He has only managed to go past twenty starts in a season once in his Liverpool career – and that was the season in which we came so tantaslisingly close to the Premier League title in 2013/14. Aside from that one personally glorious season, which saw him score 24 goals, he has managed a maximum of 19 starts in a campaign. It’s not enough for a player previously relied upon for goals – and one who takes home a reported £150,000 a week in wages.
Klopp didn’t seem convinced that Sturridge could be relied upon from the start. His comments following the 6-1 win over Southampton in the League Cup showed that he viewed Sturridge as a potential myth: “Now I know what everybody is talking about.” the German told the press after witnessing Sturridge’s finishing ability live for the first time. But it proved to be a flash in the pan as injuries mounted up for the former Manchester City and Chelsea forward. He managed just eleven starts during Klopp’s first full season and a late flurry in that 2016/17 season appeared to earn him a reprieve after the signs pointed to a parting of ways. And, in all fairness, it would have made sense for Klopp to sell Sturridge last Summer rather than give him the opportunity of another season to wind down his price further.
Anyone who has the first idea about football should know that a player of Sturridge’s talent should be plying his trade on a bigger stage than The Hawthorns, with all due respect to West Brom. They will be absolutely delighted to have secured his signing this week and that’s because they will know opportunities for their club to sign such able players, and at his age, are huge rarities. And they will place a lot of expectation on his shoulders, especially given their position in the Premier League table right now. It’s a big ask for a player who has struggled for fitness to be expected to lead a relegation battle, but if he wants the chance to prove that he’s over his injury problems…he’s got it. Two of his first three fixtures there are away trips to visit Manchester City and Chelsea, both former clubs of his. He won’t be able to play when Klopp takes his squad to face West Brom later this season, however.
Were Sturridge the same player he was back in that exciting 2013/14 season, he would either still be an integral part of the side, somehow accomodated by Klopp and his gegenpressing demands, or he would be part of another top side following an expensive transfer. The fact that the best offers on the table were from West Brom and Newcastle United, two sides desperate for firepower to avoid relegation, speaks volumes of the faith managers are showing in his fitness. A lack of goals and the threat of Championship football next season has seen those clubs willing to take both the financial risk of his wages and the gamble on his physical condition. They are getting him at a fortunate moment, however, as he is showing determination to secure a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the World Cup this Summer. That may well see him push himself a little more than he has done in the past few years.
Sturridge has found his chances in Klopp’s side becoming more limited with each season. The number of starts versus substitute appearances has dropped each campaign as Klopp loses more faith in his suitability to be part of the system he deploys. Conversely, Roberto Firmino has looked the perfect fit for what the boss wants from his forward and is quite probably the first name on his teamsheet each week. Sturridge, by contrast, looks static and in need of chances being provided to him rather than the maker and taker of his own, and others, opportunities. Firmino presses and tackles opposition players in a way that looks alien to the methods Sturridge uses when he plays. The contrast between the two players can be used as a microcosmic representation of why one is so important and the other has been allowed to leave on loan.
His exit has seen a lot of supporters question the decision making of Klopp further, following his approval of Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona. The pair joined the club back in January 2018 and have left in the same month five years on. While the Brazilian has realised a dream by signing for the La Liga giants, Sturridge has decided to plump for West Brom over Newcastle for family reasons. A move to London with West Ham had looked the most likely domestic switch for the striker, but they appear to have enough expensive and experienced players on their books to gamble on another. But that could well be Alan Pardew’s gain as he sets about trying to breathe life back into a career that has gone quite a way off the rails. Sturridge is quite probably the most able finisher of chances Anfield has seen since Robbie Fowler. He is a natural goalscorer and Pardew will be banking on his side creating enough opportunities for Sturridge to steer them to safety this season. And most Liverpool supporters would love to see him regain his form of old and rejuvenate his flagging career at both club and international level. He is still technically a Liverpool player after all.
Concerns remain over whether Klopp has taken a gamble too many by allowing Sturridge to move on this month. It leaves him with just Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke as backup options to Firmino. So should the Brazil international suffer an injury, Klopp will have to call upon two strikers who haven’t managed to score a goal between them so far this season. In fairness, Sturridge had only managed three himself – with just one of those being one which impacted a game. His opener agaisnt a stubborn Huddersfield Town defence was a key strike. But the finishes against Arsenal and Maribor were icing on the cake goals and mattered little in the scheme of things. Sturridge is a very tough act to follow if you look back to his prime, but he doesn’t leave much to match this season, if we are to be blunt about his contribution.
It had been a parting of ways which has been a long time coming, but that won’t stop supporters looking at what could have been from a player who burnt so bright for a brief period during his Anfield career.