As Daniel Sturridge fights his battle to recover from viral meningitis in time to lead Great Britain’s attack at the London Olympics, TheHardTackle reflects on the other battle he has on his hands at Chelsea.
Hulk, Victor Moses, and Theo Walcott – what’s common between them? All are players who primarily play on the right wing, as right-forwards, and each of them has been linked with a move to European Champions, Chelsea. With so many players being linked to the West London club to fill a specific role, it’s all but clear that Chelsea are looking to add a footballer of such ilk, despite the presence of a certain Daniel Sturridge – the English 22-year old forward – who was poised for greater things after finishing a fabulous loan-spell at Bolton in the second half of 2010-11 campaign. Sturridge’s current Chelsea contract expires at the end of the 2012-13 season, but rather than working towards extending his stay at Stamford Bridge, the club is apparently busy exploring the market for other options.
“I want to continue playing for Chelsea and from there I want to start playing as a striker, and from there try to play for England as a striker. That’s my aim, to be a number nine for England.” – Daniel Sturridge, last season.
However, If we look at the case with England, despite the unavailability of Wayne Rooney and when presented with a situation to chose his forwards, Roy Hodgson chose Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll for Euro 2012 and not the Chelsea player, who’d scored 12 goals in the previous campaign. Despite having such a great start to last season, Sturridge’s omission from the England squad clearly shows his stock is on the decline.
A nephew of former Derby County forward Dean Sturridge, Daniel arrived at Manchester City’s Academy in 2003 from Coventry, having previously trained with Aston Villa. His stint at Eastlands brought mixed results for him; his progress was hampered by injuries, but still he scored a few times for City in the 2007-08 season. As a result of his exploits, he was also voted the Young Player of the Year. However, after his contract expired in the summer of 2009 and with contract negotiations stalled, Danny decided to move to Chelsea.
“I asked him last year why he left Manchester City. He said he didn’t know“, Roberto Mancini had revealed last season.
Sturridge comes from a real football family – his dad was himself a promising player who was taken on by Birmingham City, while Manchester United and Arsenal were also vying for his signature. However, the senior Sturridge failed to live up to his potential and never made it to Birmingham’s first team. And after Danny had scored two back-to-back goals for City back in 2008 as an 18-year old, his uncle Dean had said,
“With those sort of experiences in the family, it means Daniel won’t get carried away. It’s easy for young footballers to go down the wrong path, but he’s not like that, and he’s not short of good people to give him advice.” He continued, “People are shouting from the rooftops because he’s scored twice in two games, but he knows to take everything with a pinch of salt. He won’t be affected by all this stuff about him being the next big thing. Look at me: I was rumoured to be on the verge of a £7-8 million move to Arsenal, and it never happened. So Daniel knows things don’t always turn out the way you want.”
However, today, despite such guidance, something is clearly amiss with the Danny Sturridge story.
If we were to reflect on his unsettled tenure in West London, it’s unfair to blame just Chelsea for not playing Danny through the centre, in his preferred role. Instead, Danny should take majority of the blame for the situation he finds himself in. Although, more often than not, he was deployed as a right forward where technically, his weaker right foot left him ill-equipped to deliver crosses from the right. Ergo, he relied on his pace and dribbling to beat defenders and cut inside and it is here when the biggest criticism that’s leveled against him came to the forefront.
Once inside or just outside the box, with the ball at his left foot, Sturridge invariably shot at the first sight of goal rather than looking for better-placed team-mates to pass. His selfishness in Chelsea’s attacking third became a cause for concern in the second half of the season and was one of the two major reasons why Roberto di Matteo opted against him in crucial games.
The second factor is his lack of inclination towards contributing defensively. Even under Villas-Boas, when he was playing better, he wasn’t the Portuguese best weapon while deploying high-pressing tactics, as he often left Jose Bosingwa too far exposed on the right flank. Bosingwa had an all to apparent tendency to caught out of position, and with Sturridge failing to track the opposition left-back, Chelsea were always vulnerable. When di Matteo replaced the 4-3-3 with 4-2-3-1, the role of wide players in the third band became all the more crucial. They had to play deeper, fall back to assist the double pivot in the central, forming the second bank of four, and break at top speed at every available opportunity. Sturridge, in such a role, was always going to be a fish out of water; thus the then interim manager opted for tactically more aware and defensively more solid players such as Kalou and Ramires to play out wide. Sturridge, who’d scored 10 goals before Christmas, ended up adding just 2 more to his tally since January.
Sturridge knew he wasn’t in form and must have been told by both managers about his follies; yet an effort to rectify his mistakes wasn’t forthcoming – at least not for neutral observers of the game. He should have worked on his weaker right foot; if not as a primary weapon, then at least as an element of surprise for full-backs. He should have tried harder defensively as the season progressed, which he clearly didn’t. For a young player at a big club, opportunities don’t just present themselves; one has to work hard day in, day out in training and on the pitch, thereby earning the manager’s trust that there would be at least a whole hearted effort from the player’s side. Even if Sturridge was being played out of position, had his work rate been better despite not being in form on the right, maybe they’d have given him an opportunity to play up front, in his preferred centre-forward position.
Even today, if Chelsea decide to cash in on the young Englishman, they would find plenty of suitors. Clubs such as Liverpool wouldn’t hesitate to pay around £10 million for acquiring his services. However, the best way forward would be for the club to give him an extension without a pay-rise, and for the manager, di Matteo, to speak to him face-to-face, explaining to him his role in the upcoming season and what he needs to do to earn his stripes. If he puts in an effort to rectify his short-comings, Chelsea will have a gem on their hands, whose value will only rise. If he does not, he can be sold in the next window for better value as he’d be having more years to run on his contract.
Anelka, Drogba and Kalou have all left Chelsea, who are now left with Torres as their only centre-forward, assuming Lukaku will go out on loan. Ergo, they need a player who can not only play on the right wing but also double up for Fernando. This is where, if the media is to be believed, Hulk comes in. It would suit Chelsea better, if they resist the temptation to pay through their nose to sign the 25-year old Brazilian, and rather bring in a cheaper but younger alternative, and let Sturridge fight with the new signing and Torres for his place in the side, if he wishes to. That way, Chelsea will not only be able to use the funds elsewhere (central midfield, right-back) but will also have a player on their books whose value is more likely to go up rather than drastically down (home-grown, young English player). However, this decision will eventually come down to the discussion Chelsea and di Matteo have with Sturridge and whether he shows an interest to sign an extension.
Daniel Sturridge is undoubtedly a talented player; that’s the only reason why Chelsea are advised to handle him carefully in the first place. However, in life as in football, talent is not enough. Less than adequate natural talent can be made up by putting in an extra ounce of effort, but lack of effort can see even the most blessed of individuals get lost in this fiercely competitive world. As far as Sturridge is concerned, whether we’re in for a sudden twist in the tale with the journeyman rediscovering his path or the script taking a wrong turn altogether, remains to be seen.