What next for Daniel Sturridge? Why the Liverpool striker is nobody’s first choice

A nightmare loan spell at West Brom sees the 28-year-old’s career at a crucial crossroads. 

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As Liverpool line up for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Roma this week, spare a thought for Daniel Sturridge. The England international – although that term is a loose one these days – will likely be watching the tie on television, as he wills away the last stretch of a disappointing loan spell at West Brom.

The 28-year-old joined the Baggies on deadline day of the January transfer window in a bid to play more first-team football and improve his chances of featuring at this summer’s World Cup, but those hopes have been dashed as a string of injuries has limited him to just four goalless appearances in 2018.   

What was described as a “coup” by former West Brom manager Alan Pardew – who was sacked by the club after overseeing a sequence of eight consecutive top-flight defeats – is in fact a genuine contender for the worst signing of the window. Sturridge will cost West Brom £4m in wages and his initial loan fee by the end of the season – an extra painful expense should West Brom be relegated to the Championship as expected. 

Despite a four-game unbeaten run under caretaker boss Darren Moore in the wake of Pardew’s departure, West Brom remain bottom of the Premier League table; and Sturridge, it should be noted, has played no part in this recent upturn in form. In West Brom’s 1-0 win away at Newcastle United last weekend, the forward was an unused substitute with Hal Robson-Kanu preferred ahead of him to come on.  It is, to say the least, a dramatic fall from grace.  

From being one of the most feared front men in European football – his 2013-14 “SAS” partnership with ex-Reds team-mate Luis Suarez saw 55 goals scored between them in all competitions – Sturridge is now nobody’s first choice. His injury-proneness is at a point of parody and while his goals to game ratio makes for impressive reading, it is undone by an inconvenient truth. The defence that Sturridge scores when he plays wears thin if he barely plays in the first place. 

So, is Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career over? Is Daniel Sturridge’s career over altogether?

That Liverpool have scored 128 goals this season and head into Wednesday’s semi-final second leg protecting a 5-2 aggregate lead appears to answer the first question emphatically. So long as Mo Salah, the PFA Player of the Year, and Roberto Firmino are firing on all cylinders, it is difficult to see Sturridge winning back a first-team berth. And a player on a £120,000 a week pay packet is not one to warm the bench with.

Were Sturridge to leave Liverpool in the summer, though, it would be for reasons deeper than lightening the wage bill or his dodgy knee, hip, hamstring or thigh. Reds manager Jurgen Klopp’s willingness to loan out a player of Sturridge’s reputation to a club battling the drop tells its own story. Sturridge does not suit the German’s gegenpressing side, built to counter. And while Sturridge can finish as well as any striker in the league when fit, he offers little in the way of tracking back and is limited in the number of positions he can actually fill. Where Salah can drop back into midfield if necessary, Sturridge’s one-track mind rarely sees him anywhere other than the final third. “Sturridge always looked an awkward fit under Klopp and he doesn’t offer the same all-round game as Firmino,” says sports reporter and Anfield Wrap contributor James Dutton. Dutton adds: “Injuries have taken a huge toll on him mentally and physically. It’s become a situation very similar to Michael Owen’s career – if you can’t get on the pitch then what’s the point?” 

But for all the cynicism around Sturridge’s ability to stay fit, it is interesting that very little of the denigration fired his way relates to whether or not he can still score goals. “That’s because that hasn’t changed,” says Dutton. “A fully fit Daniel Sturridge is a bona fide world-class striker, and in today’s market you would be talking upwards of £70m to sign him. He wouldn’t be anywhere near a team fighting relegation or having to endure Alan Pardew’s tactics; he would be in a team chasing silverware and deciding big games.” A fully fit Daniel Sturridge, however, appears to have become an abstract concept. 

Still, that West Brom gambled on Sturridge suggests that another club might do the same yet. The West Brom move hasn’t worked out –  not even a little bit – but a cut-price deal for Sturridge could appeal to a newly-promoted side looking to stay up or a mid-table side seeking cover. 

It is a far cry, of course, from what was predicted of Sturridge earlier on in his career, but injuries represent a cruel reality in professional sport. He will need to take a significant wage cut and impose his own glass ceiling on his ambitions, which is sad yes, but better that than fans being robbed of the chance to see his trademark celebratory jig.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman

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