There's some negative noise out there where Daniel Sturridge is concerned and some of his former managers don't know where it is coming from.
Chelsea were so intent on showing the 23-year-old the door that Rafael Benitez, the interim manager, received express instructions to keep him out of the first-team picture, though the Spaniard personally didn't see what the problem was. Neither did Mark Hughes, his manager at Manchester City, despite the impression that the striker is demanding and avaricious. "Pretty devastated" is how one of the management team from Hughes' time at City describes their feelings when they resigned themselves to Sturridge leaving the club.
Reputations stick, though, so Sturridge – on whom Liverpool's faint hopes of a top four finish are contingent as they enter a potentially easier period against West Bromwich Albion at Anfield tonight – always seems to be offering self-justification. Even proclaiming that Liverpool were the biggest club in English football history, after his £12m arrival last month, was seen in some quarters as a slight on his former clubs City or Chelsea. "People saw it as a lack of respect for Chelsea and City but I stated a fact," Sturridge tells the new issue of the club's magazine. "Liverpool have 41 trophies and Manchester United have 40. Other clubs are way behind. There's only one club that compares [with Liverpool] and that's United."
Sturridge's start at Liverpool – four goals in six games and an immediate synchronicity with Luis Suarez – is better, as a new Anfield striker, than Fernando Torres' was, in 2007, and though football people will tell you that first appearances can be deceptive, because a new arrival always wants to make an impression on his team-mates, his display at City last Sunday did not surprise those who worked with him as a £1,000-a-week 17-year-old at that club. "He's a game changer," says one of Hughes' team from those days. "He might flit in and out of the game and his defensive aspect might not be that great but he will do things that other players can't. Three or four interventions in a game is enough for a player like that. We don't embrace those kinds of players enough in the English game."
It's a Brazilian type of quality, he says, though City encountered something less artistic when they got down to renewing Sturridge's contract which, much to Hughes' chagrin, had been allowed to drift into its final year. Though the teenager had started only five games for City, his representatives' opening demand was £70,000 a week. Chelsea were already a prospect in the back of his mind and, though the two sides got closer, with City inching towards £40,000 a week, it was a lost cause.
Sturridge, who faces a late fitness test on the thigh injury which kept him out of last week's England side to see if he can face West Bromwich, says now that he didn't see any prospect of a breakthrough at the newly minted City. "People look at the situation of me moving on to Chelsea and see someone being greedy or ill-informed," he says. "I realised City had all the money in the world and could buy anyone they wanted. Since I left they've probably bought 10 centre-forwards. Chelsea had already been through that process. Sometimes people might not realise that for a young player, especially at a club expected to win trophies, a manager is always going to go for experience over youth. It's easier to play an experienced player when you're a new manager."
Hughes might not entirely disagree with that analysis. "There was big pressure at that time for us to be a massive club very quickly," says someone who was in the City set-up then. But Hughes will also tell you that things might have been different without the influence and demands of Sturridge's representatives. They also featured very prominently when the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, tried to secure his services, with undertakings sought that Sturridge would be allocated a central role, as well as financial add-ons. It is understood that the Premier League may have ruled out the contractual stipulation of a central role for Sturridge because it would have been unenforceable if – for argument's sake - Rodgers wanted to use him as an emergency left-back.
Rodgers feels that if he, rather than the "advisers" can become the prime influence in Sturridge's life, then he can help him become a Liverpool legend. All the players who have worked with Rodgers speak of his capacity to know intuitively what makes them tick individually, and in his interview with the club magazine Sturridge certainly displays an intelligence which suggests manager and player could co-exist very nicely. Rare is the striker who can explain in such detail why finding the net is such an addictive habit but Sturridge articulates the predisposition to shoot before time elapses. "It's that anticipation of knowing where the ball is going to land in front of you and the release of emotion when it ends up in the net," he says. "The pleasure is greater now because of the noise of the crowd when it happens. You also feel the disappointment when it doesn't go in but then you go again and make sure you don't miss next time." The magazine's point of comparison with Ian Rush, who spoke of the need always to shoot on instinct in front of goal and have "the confidence to miss," as he put it, is a good one.
Starting Premier League games has been a novelty for a player out of the Chelsea picture since 17 November. But losing them is a novelty, too. "After Man United [a 2-1 defeat and dismal team display] I was at rock bottom and I've not felt that for a long time," he says. "When you don't play a loss doesn't affect you as much because your body isn't filled with adrenaline and emotion." Sturridge knows his own mind. Rodgers is waiting to discover whether he will allow it, rather than outside influences, to dictate his onward journey in football.
Quick off the mark: Sturridge goal rate
* Daniel Sturridge has scored four goals in his first six Liverpool matches, more than any of the club's new strikers in 11 years.
R Fowler (Debut: Sept 1993) 7 goals M Baros (Mar 2002) 4 goals D Sturridge (Jan 2013) 4 goals
M Owen (May 1997) 3 goals F Torres (Aug 2007) 3 goals S Collymore (Aug 1995) 2 goals F Morientes (Jan 2005) 2 goals L Suarez (Feb 2011) 2 goals N Anelka (Dec 2001) 1 goal D Cissé (Aug 2004) 1 goal E Heskey (Mar 2000) 1 goal J Litmanen (Jan 2001) 1 goal N Mellor (Dec 2002) 1 goal F S-Pongolle (Sep 2003) 1 goal
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