Tuesday, 9 April 2013
The Daniel Sturridge Delusion
Before I go any further, I want to mention that I was, and to some extent still am, a fan of Daniel Sturridge. The potential that he exhibited again and again at Chelsea (and during his loan spell at Bolton) made me an instant fan, and his breakout under Andre Villas Boas was electrfying. But I digress!
The first summer Carlo Ancelotti was in charge of Chelsea brought three new signings - Yuri Zhirkov and Ross Turnbull (both providing depth in positions that were more or less sewn up) and, most intriguingly, a highly-touted youngster from Manchester City - Daniel Sturridge. Fearing a repeat of the Shaun Wright-Phillips debacle - paying way too much for what turned out to be a VERY one-dimensional winger - I was pleasantly surprised to find him growing in leaps and bounds. A half-season loan at Bolton confirmed that Sturridge was a very good player, a fact which would be further revealed under Andre Villas-Boas
Under the young Portuguese, Sturridge became Chelsea's x-factor, usurping Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka (and providing yet another established road-block for Romelu Lukaku). Played as a winger, Sturridge's direct play and partnership with Didier Drogba aided Chelsea in several instances, most notably the 3-0 victory at St. James', and made the departure of Anelka timely - even if his progress came at the expense of Torres and Lukaku. Nevertheless, Sturridge's goal-scoring record masked an almost selfish nature - he preferred to bring the ball forward and use it himself rather than pass, which saw him branded as "not a team player". It also masked the decline of Chelsea's squad - where a promising young striker was played out of position to appease established interests at the club. Needless to say, transfer rumours flew from mid-December of AVB's reign onwards, linking Sturridge to Arsenal (his favourite club), Liverpool and Manchester City. None of us paid much attention though - we were used to such ramblings.
Where, then, did the rumours become reality? After AVB was sacked, Roberto Di Matteo used him sparingly - his appearance against Napoli in the glorious 4-1 victory was the really only appearance of note that springs to mind - RdM's preference of Salomon Kalou really speaks volumes in this case. Wrestling with a bout of viral meningitis, Sturridge nevertheless put in a string of promising performances at this summer's Olympics. With RdM's "new-look" attacking line-up essentially remaining static throughout the months of August and September, Sturridge got few opportunities (recurring bouts with viruses didn't help), yet managed to snag a handful of goals, the most memorable coming against Tottenham. In reality, Sturridge wrote his own script when he fluffed his chance against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup. Despite nabbing a goal, he was largely anonymous up top. After that, the writing was on the wall for the young striker, and, with Lukaku developing at a phenomenal rate and a move to Liverpool all but done, the club moved for the experienced Demba Ba (who, if you hadn't noticed, is just lovely).
Sturridge's record in front of goal in his first games for Liverpool speaks for his quality, but, more importantly, it speaks for the system in which he is best suited too (it also says quite a lot about the quality and influence Luis Suarez can have). Derided as selfish and self-centred, Sturridge has proved to be nothing more than a natural striker, if one that thrives on service and that is entirely goal-oriented. But, more importantly for us, what does it say about Chelsea?
Since the arrival of Drogba, Chelsea have thrived on using a deep-lying forward. Having a striker who isn't afraid to get forward has never been an issue - rather, a striker who tracks back is one that we have always enjoyed. Sturridge, for all his faults and attributes, is a poacher with a nose for goal - his inability to develop a defensive aspect to his game ultimately lead to him becoming spare parts. Ba, and more recently Torres, have exhibited an ability to get back in recent games that has lead to them becoming more useful. Torres especially has had to develop that aspect of his game - without it, too often he has been called out for floating through games.
So, don't bemoan Daniel Sturridge's fate. Rejoice that the club acknowledged that the young striker would perhaps be better suited off elsewhere. But do question the club's tactical atmosphere - a deep lying forward will not always do the job, nor will such a striker always present itself.