Four years ago, Daniel Sturridge would have been dreaming of leading England's attack at the next World Cup. By the time the last European Championships rolled around and Sturridge seemed stuck on the fringes at Chelsea, it seemed likely he wouldn't get that chance. Having come close to seeing his career stall out, the striker says he's even more appreciative now.
"I think players wait their whole careers to have this opportunity to go to a World Cup and I'm one of those players," he said as England headed to Portugal to begin training. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the training camps just as much as playing the first game. I'm going to soak up everything and be like a sponge when I'm out there, and just take everything in."
For England, with Wayne Rooney's form on the decline, at first glance the resurrection of Sturridge's seemingly lost career looks as though it couldn't have come at a better time. Though to see Rooney still stubbornly shoehorned in as the focal point in attack in England's last few friendlies, it still may have come a little too late to really change England's chances in Brazil this summer.
With a side likely to see heavy involvement from five Liverpool players and with a sprinkling of smart, technical talents like Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available to compliment them, a fluid, deadly, free-flowing attacking side with Sturridge at its tip seems tantalizingly within reach for Roy Hodgson's England. In the most recent friendlies, Rooney has only gotten in the way of that.
His tendency to follow the ball like a transfixed toddler and mindlessly plough ahead when he does get it are poorly suited to the rather unexpectedly technical England side now headed to Brazil, and so far Hodgson has shown no sign of being willing to set him aside—or to at least shunt him out wide, putting his workrate to use while keeping him out of the way of the midfield and Sturridge.
Still, while those on the outside worry about tactics and team selection and whether England will even make it out of a difficult group they share with Italy and Uruguay, for his part all Sturridge is worried about is working hard in training. And of making the most out of a situation he wouldn't have expected to be in two years ago when he was stuck out of favour and on Chelsea's bench.
"We're working hard and we're continuing to learn as footballers" he said, re-focusing on the work at hand after a short post-season break. "It's important for me and the other players to understand that it's a great occasion and to embrace it. It should be about enjoyment and about playing with smiles on our faces. I'm doing cartwheels and front-flips inside but I'm not going to show it."
Saying he is may just about give the game away, but after the season he had there's little doubt Sturridge is now England's top striker. If Hodgson can put aside Rooney's overgrown reputation to build a more fluid, cohesive attack around him instead, England might even have a hope of making a run that as seemingly unlikely as Sturridge's own recent career revival.