“We [Jürgen Klopp and I] had a conversation about it and I told him it’s not my favorite position and not one I particularly like playing. But he’s the manager and if he wants me to play there, I’ll play there.
The team comes first, always has, always will. Throughout my career you have to play in different positions. I’m probably a good player for a manager to have because I fill in in a number of positions.”
“I have to do a job for the team. I am not saying I am happy to do it, I am saying I have to do a job for the team. It’s a team game. If I am put in that position then I have to play there.”
“But when I go over those white lines, it’s important to give 100%. I am not making any complaints, it’s football. It was nice to get the victory against Burton and it was a good game to be involved.”
Take a look at the above statements. One comes from James Milner, a career midfielder who is now being asked to fill in at leftback. The other is from Daniel Sturridge, a career center forward who is now being asked to play out wide.
Avid Liverpool supporters might be able to guess who is responsible for each of the above quotes, but that’s not really relevant. The important thing to note is how similar the two statements are. “I [insert player’s name] have a job to do for the team. I’m not happy playing [leftback/winger], but I’m giving my all for the team.” For the record, the first quote is from Milner, the second from Sturridge.
Although the statements are essentially the same, the reaction across blogs, comment threads, and Twitter have been radically different. While Milner’s statements were largely ignored by the media and fans, Sturridge’s were used to feed an on-going and undeserved narrative, painting the striker as an arrogant prima donna.
Sturridge’s statement is not all that surprising if you take even the most superficial look at his career. The striker was similarly unhappy about being shuttled out wide when playing for Chelsea, and he’s managed to bang in goals at an incredible rate at Liverpool, playing almost exclusively through the middle.
“Of course it’s more difficult for me to play wide because I am a centre-forward,” Sturridge said in the same interview. “Obviously in the modern day game you have to try to be flexible. But everyone knows that is my best position.”
Again, there’s nothing really objectionable to this statement. Everyone knows Sturridge is best through the middle. However, Klopp’s job isn’t about playing every player at their best position, but running out the best possible team. If he sees Roberto Firmino’s pressing from the front as vital for the rest of the squad to function, Sturridge might have to get used to life out wide.
Still, Sturridge has every right to want to play in the position where he’s most comfortable. And he has every right to say so in an interview, the same as James Milner.
For the press and the fans to react completely differently to the same bit of news is hypocritical, at best, and something more nefarious, at worst. Both players have been consummate professionals throughout their careers, each rising through the ranks to play for several of the biggest clubs in England, and to represent England internationally. Both players have done so by predominantly playing in their preferred positions.
Time will tell if either the Milner at leftback experiment or the Sturridge as winger experiment will work out for the best. If not, both could very well revert to their preferred positions as the season progresses. Unfortunately, one thing that will likely persist is the vast difference in perceptions between the two players.