When you consider how central Daniel Sturridge is to Roy Hodgson’s plans at the World Cup finals it is easy to forget that he only made his first start for his country in May last year and has just 10 caps to his name. The previous 17 months at Liverpool have been all about the opportunity that has been afforded to Sturridge and the way in which he has grasped it.
Four years ago, Sturridge, at 20, was not even a consideration for England’s World Cup squad. He might have played a bit part in the Double-winning Chelsea team of Carlo Ancelotti that season but was behind the likes of Emile Heskey and Darren Bent when it came to England. In fact, he was still in the Under-21s a year later at the European Championship and his full cap did not come until November 2011.
The big obstacle for Sturridge at Chelsea came when Fernando Torres joined for £50m and was installed as the first-choice centre-forward. Sturridge went out on loan to Bolton Wanderers.
It is surely that moment in his career, in January 2011, he is referring to when he talks about the difficulty that big clubs have in resisting the temptation to buy the biggest, most established names in the game.
“When you’ve got money to spend it’s very easy to buy someone worth £50m rather than say, ‘I’m going to play this 20-year-old English player’,” Sturridge said. “It’s easier to buy someone when you have the money to do it. But at the same time, if you give somebody an opportunity, you never know. You can only roll the dice and see how they perform.
“I’m thankful for everything that happened at those previous clubs. Manchester City [his second club as a junior] put me on the map in terms of giving me a chance to play in the first-team environment and Chelsea also helped me to improve mentally and as a footballer. I won trophies there. People change clubs. I would never regret anything.
“I think it’s important to play. I don’t think the manager needs to give you a confidence booster and say ‘You’re my main man; you’re the best’. Everyone wants to play. Even if you’re 15 and in the youth team, you believe you’re good enough to play in the first team.
“That’s your dream. You always watch Match of the Day and think to yourself, ‘I think I could’ve scored that chance’. But when you’re young you always want to play. For me it’s not about someone saying, ‘We want you to play every game’. It’s about being given the opportunity. That’s more important.”
Now Sturridge is the established professional. His move to Liverpool in January of last year has been the launch pad for the remarkable flourishing of his career. His 21 goals in the league last season were second only to his team-mate Luis Suarez. That is a lot of renditions of the wriggly-arms goal celebration, although there were times at the hectic end to the season when he had to curtail even that. Will it be the World Cup goal celebration too?
“There is always something new. But to be honest, if I was to score a goal in a World Cup, I don’t know what I would do. I looked at Gary Lineker’s stats and he scored 10 goals at World Cups. I didn’t know that until a couple of weeks ago and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a huge task to even reach anywhere near that’. These days players set the bar very high. [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi – their goals-to-games ratio is unbelievable.”
Sturridge is a confident character, but he is a personable chap too and he is notably at ease with the attention and the expectations that come with being in an England World Cup squad.
That means that Liverpool’s failure to get over the line in the Premier League title race is not playing on his mind. In fact, he does not come over as the sort of footballer who spends too much time gloomily raking over the past.
“It [the title race] is boxed, that’s for sure,” he said. “It was boxed off the day after we lost it. You’ve got to move on. Your lives have to move on. It wasn’t a great feeling after the game but we set ourselves the target of getting into the Champions League and achieved that, so everybody’s content.
“But sometimes you get so close, feel like you’ve almost won it and then don’t achieve that, it’s disappointing. But at the same time I’m now with England, I’ve got the World Cup ahead of me and I’m looking forward.”