Daniel Sturridge joined Chelsea from Manchester City on the 3rd of July, 2009. He had been followed closely for almost three years by the club’s then sporting director, Frank Arnesen. Disillusioned with life at Manchester City, Sturridge felt he wouldn’t get his chance as the club sought to invest into marquee signings under the new regime of Shiek Mansour. The City fans who questioned his motives and logic back then have perhaps been proven correct looking at the situation the youngster finds himself in now. There is no doubting that Sturridge was and still remains an extremely talented player, but the fact that he isn’t playing week in and week out seems to suggest that the potential is yet to be fulfilled. However, there could be more than just what meets the eye as far as Daniel Sturridge’s ‘failure’ is concerned.
The summer of 2009 was a fairly uneventful summer by Chelsea standards. Ross Turnbull signed for the club from Middlesbrough followed by Yuri Zhirkov and then came Daniel Sturridge. Since Sturridge was an under 23 player, he couldn’t move to Chelsea on a Bosman transfer and Manchester City, livid at seeing one of their finest emerging prospects signing for a rival demanded a ‘development’ fee for the player. The matter was eventually settled by a tribunal which required Chelsea to pay an initial fee of £3.5 million, with additional payments of £500,000 after each of 10, 20, 30 and 40 first-team competitive appearances. There would also be a further payment of £1 million if Sturridge made a full international appearance, and Manchester City in addition would receive 15 percent of any sell-on fee if Sturridge was transferred. The final clause in particular will help City receive no less than £1.7m, now that he has been sold to Liverpool by the European Champions.
During his first season at Chelsea, Sturridge started in just 7 games and made 15 appearances from the bench. He managed to score 5 goals in all for the club and with 4 of those coming in the FA Cup, he finished as Chelsea’s top scorer in the FA Cup for the season. It is important also to note that Sturridge had to fight Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka for the centre forward’s spot with manager Carlo Ancelotti unwilling to play him as a wide striker. Ancelotti was also a manager inclined to trust experienced players more. He preferred to keep the seniors on his side and was not keen on upsetting the establishment, a trait which did not help the youngster’s cause. Chelsea also did the domestic double that season, winning the Premier League and the FA Cup while Didier Drogba secured the golden boot having scored 34 goals in all competitions.
Chelsea started the 2010-11 season in spectacular fashion with huge 6 – o wins against West Brom and Wigan. By mid-October the Londoners were five points ahead in the title race with everyone betting on the Blues to finish the season as Champions. Carlo Ancelotti’s trust in experience had paid off so far and there was no apparent reason for him to radically change his approach. Therefore, despite his evident admiration for Sturridge, legitimate chances were still hard to come by for the youngster. The now traditional winter slump hit the team however and by the end of November Chelsea were only topping the table on goal difference. As the January transfer window loomed, the last thing on the minds of the Chelsea fans was a striker, but what transpired on the 31st of January 2011 will possibly never be forgotten by the Chelsea faithful. The club smashed the British transfer record by signing Fernando Torres from Liverpool for £50m and spent a further £21m for David Luiz. The signs were ominous for Sturridge, he had to move in order to secure more playing time.
Owen Coyle and Bolton Wanderers placed their faith in Daniel Sturridge by signing him on loan for the remainder of the season. They had successfully managed to nurture Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere into Premier League material and it was hoped that the young Chelsea forward too, would follow the same path. He largely played as a second striker at Bolton, floating behind Kevin Davies. Prime forward or not, the fact that he played centrally helped him and Bolton immensely. In 11 starts and 1 substitute appearance, Daniel Sturridge managed to score 8 goals with three of those coming against Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle, proving that he had the ability to play at the highest level.
Back at his parent club meanwhile, there had been a few massive changes. Carlo Ancelotti had been sacked following a disappointing season for the Blues and the man who had relentlessly pursued Sturridge, was also to leave. Frank Arnesen was one of his primary backers at the club, but the sporting director had decided that the time had come for a new challenge. Roman Abramovich in a typically extravagant fashion had decided to invest his money and belief into Andre Villas Boas. This move benefited Sturridge immensely.
AVB had used Hulk as a wide forward during his days at Porto liked to have a left footed player cutting in and Sturridge seemed tailor made for this role with his penchant for taking shots. Drogba and Torres were still seen as the prime contenders for the centre forward spot. Not one to shy away from taking his chances, Sturridge was exceptional even if occasionally infuriating with his selfish style of play from an unfamiliar position. He managed 11 goals and 3 assists from 28 starts in the Premier League despite making a majority of those under AVB. It would unfortunately be the first and the last time he contributed consistently and tangibly for the club. Roberto Di Matteo took over when the club was in damage control mode and his immediate move was to install more defensive discipline. The move saw Ramires man the right flank, with Sturridge back on the bench as Chelsea began to take their first tentative steps toward winning the Champions League.
Opinions are mixed about Sturridge’s stay at Chelsea with some factions hating his style of play while some other factions applaud his confidence and willingness. At the end of the day, Sturridge is very much a player who thrives when he is trusted, he possesses oodles of confidence and does not shy away from receiving the ball, no matter what the situation. His ball hogging attitude and a shocking lack of awareness in seemingly straight forward situations is a massive irritation but when played consistently, he has proven himself more than capable of delivering telling passes, scoring goals and contributing to all round play. His impulse is both a boon and a bane, but time and patience can smooth over the rough edges in his game. Untimely niggling injuries have also been a cause of concern for Daniel Sturridge throughout his career, but the problem isn’t something that cannot be handled.
This season, Chelsea doggedly ensured that Fernando Torres played as many minutes as is possible. The disappointment of seeing their £50m signing struggling to repay on the pitch obviously seems like a very bitter pill to swallow for the Chelsea hierarchy. Sturridge has not managed more than two starts this season despite Torres’ struggles before Benitez came into the equation and that is a telling indication of the fact that Chelsea had all but decided to let Sturridge leave in January. Did Roberto Di Matteo have his hands tied when he was at the club? It is a question that we’ll never have an answer for. End result being, Daniel Sturridge decided to cut ties with the Stamford Bridge club by signing for Liverpool. In hindsight, he perhaps should have moved to a smaller club when he left City. Given Liverpool’s current predicament, Daniel Sturridge fits the bill.
The club might not be at the height of its glory but the atmosphere is less volatile behind the curtains. There is also a tradition of stability at Liverpool which makes it easier for the youngsters. Also, Brendan Rodgers hasn’t shied away from trusting younger players at the club which bodes well for Sturridge, who is comparatively a lot more experienced than Raheem Sterling, Suso or Jonjo Shelvey. Rodgers has also spoken of using Daniel Sturridge down the center and the expected partnership with Luiz Suarez promises to be immensely exciting as both players are quick, tricky and are blessed with imagination in abundance.