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Big Brother is Watching

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Daniel Sturridge is ready to shrug off the loss of Luis Suárez and lead Liverpool into the new campaign. As he enjoys a well earned break following his Hodgey-induced trauma, the Liverpool striker talks about looking out for Raheem Sterling.

"Palms together, right?" "Yes, mate." - Hendo's inability to clap was wearing thin for Raheem but Danny was always kind.
"Palms together, right?" "Yes, mate." - Hendo's inability to clap was wearing thin for Raheem but Danny was always kind.
Julian Finney

Everything wonderful must eventually end but, comfortingly, even the most unpleasant predicaments will ultimately cease. Only a buffoon would attempt to diminish the positive effect that Luis Suárez had on Liverpool Football Club and indeed few have contributed more in the way of gushing eulogies to the Uruguayan's footballing élan than your scribbler. There was, however, some weighty baggage which those of us who loved to support Suárez lugged about. There was compromise, awkwardness and embarrassment. Occasionally there was anger and disappointment. Loving Luis was, well, complex.

Chronicling the goings on around Anfield and environs promises to be a far less troublous and fraught affair in the season to come. One garishly apparent consequence of the fan and media obsession with Ol' Bitey was the attendant unforgiveable lack of appreciation for Daniel Sturridge. With 35 goals in his 49 club appearances over one and a half campaigns, the Birmingham native is worthy of far more acclaim than has come his way. So many of us, having naively accepted the damning media portrait of the talented striker before his arrival, were initially wary of this genuine young man. We were told he was arrogant, wayward and divisive but we failed to realise that this was an image which suited the narrative of others and not an accurate reflection of the man.

Through his first few, eminently amiable, interviews fans remained guarded and cynical. Was this Liverpool going for more middle-of-the-road British talent? Ironically, in the wake of the discussions and dealings of recent weeks, there were fans who balked at the expenditure of around £12m on a player many considered to be unproven on a consistent basis in the top flight. The skilful attacker has since made such mealy mouthed griping look ridiculous and were it not for the almost other-worldly efforts of Suárez, Sturridge would have been the unquestioned star of the show, with 24 goals in 33 games and the kind of pace, touch, vision and guile that opposition defenders dread.

Following his World Cup misadventure under the questionable guidance of Roy Hodgson, Sturridge is relaxing in Jamaica. His ever-cheerful exterior is fooling nobody. We all know that every night he must be curled in the foetal position, restive and gibbering about the horrors of Hodgeball. The player however, is professional and courteous to a fault and, when confronted with some questions on local radio about his role in the squad in the season to come, the dancing goal poacher was a pleasing combination of serenity, humility and quiet confidence. Of course, he was quizzed initially about the absence of last season's strike partner.

"People have to step up," insisted the noted sandwich enthusiast. "When stars leave, a new star can be born, as they say. There are a lot of players that can take that mantle, but it is a team game, regardless of whether there are star players within that team. It’s not about one person, it’s about the team. It’s not important."

On the always emotive subject of squad numbers, Sturridge tried to sound cool and pragmatic but betrayed a hint of the superstition that seems to be a part of most footballers' professional lives. With the departure of the aforementioned flesh fancier and the spindly limbed Iago Aspas, to Barcelona and Sevilla respectively, there are two iconic shirts up for grabs. Would the unfortunately nicknamed Studge fancy the famous number nine?

"My name is Daniel Sturridge," he pointed out helpfully. "I’ve got 15 letters in my name, and that number 15 has been good to me. I’ve never really been obsessed with specific shirt numbers. When I was younger I wanted to be No.10, then No.8, but as you grow up, you don’t get to choose, you have to wait your turn. I suppose now I am at the stage where I can select a number, but I don’t think I will take No.9 even if it is offered to me. But you never know."

So, confirmation there. Or not. I'd love to make a sniffy disparaging comment about bloody footballers and their irrational superstitious angst but you're reading the ramblings of a man who waves at magpies and has a lucky step on the way into his gym. Pathetic stuff. On an altogether more positive note, Sturridge is massively enthused about the season to come and is particularly optimistic about the contribution of Raheem Sterling. Revealingly, the older man declares a kind of fraternal affection for the tonsorially adventurous youngster and suggests that he may be a real leader for Brendan Rodgers on the park and off.

"Me and Raheem are very close," Sturridge insists. "To me, he’s my little brother and I look after him and try to help him as a footballer and as a person. I didn’t have anyone take me under their wing when I was his age, so it is important now that I understand my role, which is the big brother role. I guide him where I can, and that’s as important as being his friend and his teammate. It’s going to be great. Raheem is a great player. He’s young, but he’s got a lot of talent, and talent that sometimes people don’t get to see as well. He’s young and he is still improving. He’s already improved so much, which I am happy about, and he will continue to do that."

With Liverpool's pre-season about to start in earnest, Brendan Rodgers will need few words to mollify or appease anxious fans if a hale Daniel Sturridge can hit the ground running and then stay there, injury-free, for the season. The irksome and gadarene rush among some fans to immerse themselves in a fug of gloom is one of the least edifying things that accompanies the loss of a great player in the transfer window. This may seem a big ask, but the smart money is on Sturridge and Sterling, as they did last year, producing the kind of brilliant form that can make fans forget not just Suárez but even the garish Warrior raiment in which they are bedecked.