Cast your minds back to January – 29 January to be exact. In the last remaining days of the transfer window, Daniel Sturridge leaves for West Bromwich Albion on loan, and seemingly, leaves Liverpool for good.
Bar possibly getting a game in the annual mid-July outing to Tranmere, or maybe even being placed and polished in the shop window during the upcoming American tour, Sturridge’s Liverpool career was over.
Now cast your minds back to 12 February. Three minutes into West Brom’s tie away at Stamford Bridge, the Birmingham-born left-footer exits the action with a hamstring injury.
For reds like myself who didn’t watch the game live, social media was the bearer of bad news.
But while once upon a time a breaking story of another Daniel Sturridge injury would have ruined a supporter’s day and had them desperately Googling the striker’s name for days on end, awaiting news of a possible return date, this time it didn’t seem to matter all that much.
It gave us a few seconds of annoyance before we moved on with our lives, rather than make us question the meaning of our very existence as it so often did two or three years previous. This lad was never going to play for us again anyway.
Even Dominic Solanke, who was yet to score a single goal at senior level in England at this point, was frequently higher in the manager’s pecking order than Sturridge. A lost Divock Origi, struggling at Wolfsburg at the time, looked more likely to play for Liverpool again.
But then, the summer. On the seventh day of the seventh month, Sturridge wasn’t in Samara playing in a World Cup quarter-final for his country. Rather, he was in Chester’s Vauxhall Stadium in front of under 5,000 supporters.
Instead of having his eyes fixated on a game that would’ve been the biggest of his career had he been involved, the striker was emerging from the bench and from metaphorical oblivion to score twice in the preseason friendly. Twitter was alight with giddy excitement of the distant possibility of falling back in love with Sturridge.
“Ready to have my heart broken again” was trending on LFC social media worldwide, even if we all knew there was still every chance that he had played his final competitive game for the Reds. Only we could become so enlivened by a player scoring against a non-league side in preseason.
I swear I’m not gonna get excited about Sturridge. I have to do better than this😭😭
— Sailor V✨ (@vanitaaaa_) July 7, 2018
Sturridge has again defied both his critics, advocates, and perhaps even his own expectations.
Yet again he has stayed through another summer against all the odds and after the frustration of his minutes being so limited in the early part of the campaign, he was thrown in against the Parisians last Tuesday evening.
As another European adventure began, Daniel Sturridge did what Daniel Sturridge does, he scored.
It was all so similar to the Reds’ first ever trip to the London Stadium last calendar year. In Lazarus-like fashion, Liverpool’s number 15 returned from obscurity to play his part for the Reds, scoring the opener in what was a must-win game as Liverpool secured Champions League qualification the following week.
Time and time again, he has come back from the dead to remind supporters of his momentary brilliance.
The dream that Sturridge will ever consistently lead the line week-in week-out for Liverpool again has been reduced to just that – a dream.
A fantasy that belongs to the history books of 2014. Roberto Firmino’s crucial role in Klopp’s squad, along with the manager’s affection towards young Solanke, and Mohamed Salah’s ability to play the number nine role means Sturridge’s role is now as a bit-part player.
But it’s not the usual role of a man coming in and out when required. Unlike a player such as Xherdan Shaqiri, who is likely to get most of his starts against sides in the bottom half of the league, Sturridge’s inclusion will be much more unpredictable.
As seen on Tuesday, ‘Studge’ has the quality and come in to play against any side, no matter the quality. He will have to be patient, as he already has been this season, but patience is a virtue the ex-Chelsea man holds in abundance.
When we think about commitment to a club, we think about local players, or industrious workmanlike scrappers who give their all for the team on a weekly basis. We rarely think of the man whose starts are seldom.
While a James Milner or a Dirk Kuyt earns deserved plaudits for hard work and contribution to the cause, the likes of Sturridge don’t get the ultimate satisfaction of getting to play every match, while also having their dedication which is equal to these working class heroes often go unnoticed.
Sturridge has had many chances to leave the club. He would have been advised by family, fellow players and even his agent that a move would be in his best interests.
They would have told him that it was time to move on and get minutes on the pitch elsewhere. Each of the last three summers felt like the right time for him to leave in their own ways.
He may never get another England cap while at Liverpool and in the last four seasons he has only managed to reach double figures in league starts once (11 in 2015/16). “What’s the point in being a footballer if you don’t get to play football?” they asked.
He even had the frustration of watching his teammates go all the way to a European Cup Final in May, during the only four months he had spent away from the club since January 2013. Lallana’s introduction for the injured Salah would have compounded his misery, knowing too well that he surely would have been brought on against Los Blancos had he been in Kiev.
But Sturridge has seen something in Liverpool, whether it be the city or the club, or perhaps even both. Just like Lucas Leiva, something has dragged him back in on an annual basis even when common sense and logic would suggest it was best for all parties involved to move on.
There’s an attraction there that’s been just too good to let go of.
Maybe it’s the knowledge that there’s nowhere else he can go and play at such a high level. Anywhere else where he could realistically move would surely be a step down.
Maybe it was the six months he had roughing it out at the Hawthorns, because no one could enjoy that.
Maybe it’s the adoration he still receives from the Liverpool faithful, despite all the times his hip and groins have broken so many Scouse hearts.
The man who scored the opener against PSG on Tuesday has always spoken in glowing terms about the club. Rarely has there been any questions raised over his attitude.
Even in Klopp’s reign in charge, where Sturridge hasn’t been as favoured by the German as he was by Brendan Rodgers, he has been content to wait months to play his part. Those parts played have been crucial.
Goals against United and Villarreal in the Europa League run came on his return from injury in February of 2016, before a goal worthy of winning any game in the final versus Sevilla. He also netted in the derby of that spring.
His contribution away to West Ham the season before last shouldn’t be overlooked and last week’s clash with one of Europe’s best showed again just how capable Sturridge is of performing on the biggest stage.
We should now finally, although begrudgingly, wrap up our wishing and expecting that the Sturridge of five years ago will ever return. Even if he remains fit, as he for the most part had done in the 24 months prior to his West Bromwich move, it would take a near-miracle for him to become what we saw back in the halcyon days of the SAS, certainly in terms of how often we get to see him play.
But what we should enjoy now is a new Daniel Sturridge. A Daniel Sturridge built for moments – for individual games.
No longer is there any sort of a reliance on the 29-year old. No longer is there quite the burden on his shoulders as there once was.
And more than any of his goals or any of his trademark celebrations, we should enjoy and appreciate the man’s love for the club. His continued hard work and positivity amidst a year where he missed out on playing in a Champions League Final and a World Cup semi-final should be an example to fellow pros.
Many have fallen for the club before Sturridge, and many will after him. But there are very few who have had so many reasons to move on. Here’s hoping to see the wriggly arms in Madrid next June.