Reports have emerged that Daniel Sturridge has twice held meetings with the owners of Besiktas. If there is truth to this, then it would mark yet another disappointing turn in the England striker’s career. Besiktas, it’s true, is a huge club, but for a twenty-eight year old playing in the Premier League it represents a significant step towards retirement and obscurity.
Sturridge’s injury plagued career is a sad example of the precarious nature of modern football. Just four years ago he was widely considered one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Now he is a barely making any headlines as his Liverpool career limps to a lamentable end. His rise and fall, as well as the unsympathetic response he has received throughout, shows just how little time the modern game has for injuries and misfortune.
Under appreciated quality
When Brendan Rodgers pulled off the January signing of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea in 2013, it was met with a mixture of optimism and caution. Even at that stage, his injuries were well-known, but so too were his talents. Blessed with good feet, and a burst of pace, Sturridge was a natural goal scorer who hit the ground running for the Reds.
When his career comes to be judged, it should never be forgotten that he is ahead of Fowler, Suarez, Owen and Ian Rush as the fastest Red to fifty goals — quite an achievement considering he was never a regular penalty or set piece specialist. His first eighteen months at the club were a massive success as he romped to a staggering thirty-five goals in forty-nine appearances. His exploits, moreover, at the start of 13-14 were crucial to Liverpool’s title push as he scored three consecutive match winning goals as the club started the campaign with Suarez banned. Had Liverpool won the league that year, his name may have been entered the annals of immortality.
In fact the Uruguayan’s super human ability overshadows just what a big player Sturridge was for Liverpool. He has played his part in plenty of huge games for the club — from the regular mauling of their top six rivals to a Europa League Final, he’s chipped in with goals and quality a plenty.
Injuries are cruel, especially in the modern game, with its sheer pace and ridiculous schedules, the demands on the players are relentless. Sturridge has missed over six hundred days since he signed from Chelsea. The numbers are cruel and crazy, but only tell half the story.
Of those missed days, how much extra time was required getting him match fit? Only Sturridge can answer that, but for the majority of his Liverpool career, he has played like a man who doesn’t trust his body to carry him. Footballers are often dismissed as soulless mercenaries, but in an age when mental health is rightfully being studied in the game, it is only fair and human to also ask what mental impact these injuries have had on the forward. To be so gifted and yet so blighted by weak tendons and ligaments truly is a cruel twist.
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Some of the fans, too, have been guilty of showing a lack of support for a man who has been a good servant to the club. On his day, there were few more naturally gifted and prolific than him, and yet he has suffered dismissive tut-tuting from social media and a lack of warmth from the home support. Perhaps Klopp didn’t help when he came out and suggested that the issue was in his head, insinuating a lack of willingness from the player to operate beyond the pain barrier. In reality, the painful truth for both parties was that injuries had left the player simply incapable of offering the required work rate for Klopp’s high press.
It is immensely frustrating to have your players injured, and Liverpool get plenty of bad luck in this department. But that doesn’t excuse the shabby treatment of a quality player. It’s also telling that other perennially injured former players received far more adulation from the fans. Daniel Agger, for one, was never fit for Liverpool; he even missed an entire campaign after complaining of discomfort when he wore his boots after an early season foot fracture. For whatever reason, though, the Dane was loved and appreciated for his quality in a way that Sturridge was not.
Hope for the future
There is a common complaint from the English football community that this country produces too many tough tackling, rough and ready players. This complaint is broadened with a nod to the continental flair we lack, but when a player like Sturridge comes along, he surely offers a counter to this argument. His skill, pace, variety of finishing and tenacity up front made him a genuinely precious football talent.
Four years ago Sturridge was on the cusp of a World Cup, having banged in an incredible number of goals in a lethal partnership with Luis Suarez. Four years on and he is linked with the Super Lig, having failed play enough minutes to be in contention for Russia.
Perhaps this is not a bad thing for him. Maybe a less-demanding league will see him recover his fitness to a level where he can one day make a Premier League return, he is only twenty-eight after all. It has worked for players in the past, such as Kevin Campbell, who returned to England, achieving cult hero status at Everton as his goals kept them in the Premier League. Sturridge is a vastly superior player and is fully deserving of a more fitting and fortunate ending to his career.