It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Injuries. Minimal minutes. An unsuccessful loan to his hometown team. It wasn’t so long after this time last season that many were thinking the Liverpool career of Daniel Sturridge was all but finished. A whimper of a finale when considering the roaring start, but a whimper nonetheless.
Even as a staunch supporter, I felt like the writing was on the wall. And when whispers came that he might be loaned out when the winter window opened, I began cobbling some money together in order to buy a shirt with his name on it. A difficult thing to conceptualize: my favorite player’s name, on my favorite team’s shirt, about 5 years too late.
And the point wasn’t lost on fellow Reds that I encountered. I remember sitting at a restaurant last spring when a Liverpool supporter walked past me. He smiled as he approached but upon passing me, did a double take and shook his head. I looked at him, confused. He offered this explanation: “I like the name on the front of the shirt, not the back.” He walked away, revealing an Emre Can shirt.
I thought a lot about that encounter as I watched the team surround a defiant and triumphant Sturridge, who’d just rescued a point with one of the most beautiful strikes you’ll ever see. I thought a lot about how that encounter seems more like a microcosm of the fickle nature of Liverpool fandom specifically and fandom more broadly. I thought a lot about how no set of supporters has ever deserved a player of the quality of Daniel Sturridge.
There’s lots to say about how dire things looked last season, but maybe we can start with how Sturridge looked to be entirely squeezed out of consideration for making the first team. That his body failed him once more, made it even less likely to make the pitch - Sturridge missed 13 games total last season due to injury and while they were localized to two specific periods, all of those matches were missed during the first half of the season.
At the same time, Liverpool brought in Dominic Solanke as a striker. When Daniel went down injured in August, it provided the window for Solanke to showcase himself. And while it was clear that Solanke didn’t carry the same omnipresent threat present when a player of Sturridge’s class is on the pitch, his movement and pressing gave room for hope.
When Daniel eventually went down for a long stretch in December, he had already found himself in a bit of a fight for minutes. That Liverpool were bounced from the League Cup that year in September (eerily similar to this year), meant that Sturridge would find minutes hard to come by. Time away from the club seemed an inevitable prelude to eventually parting ways.
It was no surprise, then, when news in January of that season indicated that Sturridge was eyeing a loan for the rest of the year. A few suitors were floated - included teams in Spain - but he eventually chose to lace them up with his hometown team of West Bromwich Albion. The opportunity to save his local club from relegation being the choice he made should surprise no one given the way Daniel has talked about loyalty and responsibility.
Unfortunately for West Bromwich - though, fortunate for us, as we would find out - the loan spell at West Bromwich was a bit of a disaster. The team itself was in a shambles and Sturridge ended up being limited in his participation due to some knocks picked up in training. All told, he only notched 116 minutes of playing time w/ the Baggies and returned home.
That hard ending made any kind of contribution from Daniel a bit of an afterthought. Never known for pressing - though, it must be stated, he was never necessarily one to loaf on the pitch either - Daniel seemed a bit of an odd fit. An uncanny ability to move and find space, he seemed a natural fit on the offensive side of things because he would necessarily find and create space for his line mates. But he was not an effective defender, which maybe speaks more to the unicorn that is Roberto Firmino in terms of his two-way ability as a false nine, than it does about Sturridge. After all, we wouldn’t knock Harry Kane or Alvaro Morata or even Sergio Aguero for not being better at dispossessing a player of the ball.
The requirements of Jurgen Klopp’s system are tough and especially so when you consider the burden placed on the player in the center forward role. Winning the ball back and knowing your pressing triggers are important. And, simply put, Daniel wasn’t necessarily going to give you that. Most fans, myself included, put the idea of Daniel Sturridge donning the Red shirt in meaningful ways off to the side.
But then the reports from preseason came in. And Daniel was figuring prominently. At preseason friendlies, he was leading the line and scoring. His movement looked fantastic. He looked - dare we say it, lest the fragile dream vanish into ether? - like the Daniel of old. More economical, maybe, in his movement, but sound, hardworking, and damn fine on the ball.
The hope had been reignited. There may be a Sturr-ennaisance in the offing.
We see now that it wasn’t all just smoke and mirrors: a goal in the waning moments against the demolishing of West Ham; a stunner of a header against PSG; and the scintillating equalizer against Chelsea just this weekend. Daniel Sturridge has notched 3 goals in just over 90 minutes of work. What’s more, he’s looked bright and threatening in each of his appearances.
It’s nice to reflect on the return that Daniel Sturridge has had in terms of raw numbers, but it’s impossible to analyze all of this without once more making mention of one stat in which Daniel has not yet managed to notch an entry: a song from the Kop. In articles past - because, yes, Daniel Sturridge is my obsession cot damn it! - it had been argued that he wasn’t very good for very long or that it’d been so long since he’d been good; two different sides of the same argumentative coin, I guess.
But what I am often struck by is that he’s also currently one of the longest-serving players at the club. He’s never once put a foot wrong in terms of representing the club or the city. He’s gone out off his way to mentor younger players and provide them with support. He’s been a leader off and on the pitch. If that were all he’d done, I’d wager that’d be enough to earn him acclaim on the Kop - especially considering how the fans have lionized hardworking players like Lucas and Dirk Kuyt in the past. What is the value of loyalty? Of sticking it out with the club that found you and trusted in you?
There are a lot of feel good stories in this early season - an especially easy going time when you consider the run of results and the quality of play on show. But my favorite one is Daniel Sturridge’s resurrection. Not because we, as fans, deserve him. In fact, the distance with which LFC fans have generally regarded him tells me we don’t. But because he deserves this time in the sun. He deserves this moment where all of that faith and investment he’d been trying to pay back to Liverpool might finally be coming good. Because he deserves to be remembered as a humble guy with a worldy of a left foot who managed to take some of the worst experiences in a career and, embodying the best of Liverpool, worked his socks off to find his way back.
Because, in many ways, even if he’d never say it, he walked alone. And if this season marks a resurgence for Liverpool - and, for me, even if it didn’t - he deserves a moment to be honored for the singular presence that he is. Unassuming. Hard working. Top class. Liverpool FC’s unsung working class hero.