Sturridge Shows It Is About More Than Just Money
Once tagged a surly misfit, the Liverpool striker has blossomed playing regularly at Anfield writes Chris Bascombe
When the Liverpool coach draws nearer to the Cardiff City Stadium today, Daniel Sturridge will be staring at his smart phone admiring himself. It is not the vanity project it might seem. Sturridge analyses videos of his goals on the way to games in his quest for self-improvement rather than self-absorption, but a recurring theme of the striker's career is how one has often been mistaken for the other.
Little wonder recent weeks have seen Sturridge embark on a charm offensive as potent and persuasive as his partnership with Luis Suarez.
The 24 year-old arrived on Merseyside 18 months ago wounded, disillusioned and as suspicious of the football industry as many had become of him, his experiences at Manchester City and Chelsea ensuring - to those on the outside - he appeared introverted and aloof.
Now the Liverpool striker is confronting the misconceptions and smears that caused distress and detachment, confirming what the majority of those who worked with him have long argued. The overriding impression now is of a gifted but occasionally disenchanted kid hunting the ball, not the money, to prove he had the talent to become a Premier League superstar.
"Maybe because I played for City and Chelsea, people think 'Oh, he has played for big clubs', but I have always chased to play," says Sturridge. "I want to be successful, I'm a winner and I've always wanted to win - but it's not about sitting on the bench and watching from the sidelines and earning money and being content. It's about playing, living your dream, winning medals and leaving the pitch smiling.
"When you're a kid you dream about playing football, of playing as much as you can until your mum calls you in. People think I got loads of money at City and left for Chelsea to chase more money. They said 'He's a money-grabber' yet City were the richest club in the world, so how was I chasing the money?
"Chelsea told me I would get opportunities and they believed in me. I wanted to learn from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. I thought when Didier moved on, I would be next in line but it wasn't the case. It is difficult for young players who are involved at a club with a lot of money. If they can buy the world's best striker who has scored 30 goals a season two years in a row, why are they going to give an 18-year-old English player who's not experienced first-team football a chance? Young players should seek first-team football. That's what I wanted to do."
If there is a root cause for fractious relationships, it is that Sturridge was not prepared to be compliant when backing himself. His father Michael and uncle Dean, both ex-professional footballers, intervened when they feared suppression (Sturridge often says 'we' rather than 'I' to explain his thoughts). His goal ratio for Liverpool suggests they had a point.
"My dad's view about coaching is you have to express yourself. A lot of the time when I was at Academies, I wasn't allowed to," he says. "At Villa they thought I would improve if they played me central midfield. My dad didn't see that, so we left.
"At Coventry things were going well but because I was, possibly, the best player in the age group they were being really hard on me, more so than anyone else. There were scouts coming to see me - Manchester United, all different clubs. I don't feel Coventry liked that. They played me two age years up. I was 11, getting kicked by 13 year olds and getting injured. I was crying because of the abuse. My dad wanted me to go somewhere I could improve but really just enjoy it.
"For me, the most important thing when I was younger was I liked to express myself and do skills. Coaches sometimes don't like you to dribble or try things. That's why my dad wanted to move me on - he didn't want those things coached out of me. You lose your natural ability."
Sturridge says Owen Coyle, the former Bolton manager, was the catalyst for change during a six month loan spell at The Reebok in 2011. "Chelsea didn't want me to go, but I was desperate," said Sturridge. "I spoke to Ron Gourlay and begged. Owen Coyle changed my life. It was the first time I was in a first team, playing centre-forward. I had a chance to show the world how I could play. Owen's a great man. I still treat him as my manager because he was someone who influenced my career. I will always be grateful to him.
"When I went back to Chelsea Andre Villas-Boas was there and I was playing more - on the right-wing mainly. But then AVB got fired Di Matteo got the job and I was out.
"I couldn't sit on the bench any longer, I was enjoying the feeling of putting my kit on and being on the pitch. I was back at square one but Liverpool came calling and it was an easy decision. It was a new start for me, moving to a club I could not wait to get on the pitch for."
Liverpool has brought stability and adulation, Sturridge recently earning the ultimate compliment as his name is sung to the same Kop chant once reserved for Dalglish and Fowler. The idiosyncrasies in pursuit of perfection now take a less restless form as his pre-match habit of watching himself score goals on his smart phone demonstrates.
"I watch my goals to get me in the mood and to give myself a vision of how I want the game to go," he says. "I have got more clips as the season has gone on. It keeps changing. The clips now last 15-20 minutes which is normally what the coach ride to a stadium takes, so it is perfect."
The England striker already has an impressive collection, a Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup winners medal from Stamford Bridge. The most compelling argument about what really motivates him is how he would feel if he won similar at Anfield.
"It's not about looking back and saying I've won medals. I am still hungry," he says. "We have not achieved anywhere near what I want to achieve, the rest of the players feel the same. Would it feel different to win the title at Liverpool? Definitely. The camaraderie is something I have not been part of for a long time."