'From the first training session, it was unreal' - what Liverpool team-mates and staff really thought of Daniel Sturridge
Daniel Sturridge is finally back in football.
578 days after seeing his contract with Trabzonspor cancelled by mutual consent, ahead of receiving a four-month ban for breaching betting regulations, and the former Liverpool striker has found a new club over in Australia after signing for Perth Glory.
Having trained with eighth-tier side Kidsgrove Athletic last September, spent time out in the United States with his own fitness coaches and gone on trial with newly-promoted La Liga side Real Mallorca earlier this summer, the 32-year-old’s hard work to force his way back into the professional game has finally paid off.
After all, make no mistake about it, Reds fans might have been mesmerised by the likes of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah in attack during the Premier League era, but Sturridge is one of the most gifted forwards they have been able to witness.
Boasting 67 goals and 20 assists from 160 appearances, his returns for Liverpool would be far more impressive had it not been for the recurring injury problems that plagued his career.
Yet he still left Anfield in the summer of 2019 as a European Champion, having helped the Reds win the Champions League, while he was unfortunate that was the only winner’s medal he had to his name when departing at the end of his contract.
“Daniel has earned the right to be considered a modern-day Liverpool great, I would think,” Jurgen Klopp insisted when confirming the striker’s departure. “He came to the club while we were trying to rebuild and re-establish ourselves. Some of the goals he has scored for Liverpool were so, so, so important.
“He is one of the best finishers I have ever seen in my life. He scores goals you think could and should not be possible.
“Again, like many players in my squad, Daniel has had to be patient and contribute when asked during games, but even this season he has played a vital role.
“What maybe is missed on the outside of the club by many is what a great leader Daniel is in our dressing room. He is smart, confident and not afraid to speak up when he thinks there is something that needs adapting to help the team.
“He has been great with many of the younger players also so he has been so important to our progression here.”
Having joined Liverpool to be a leading man, alongside Suarez, fans will never forget the SAS’s devastating partnership of the 2013/14 season. They’ll also continue to mourn the fact it wasn’t able to clinch the Premier League title it deserved and only graced the Anfield turf for 18 months.
Following the controversial Uruguayan’s exit in the summer of 2014, Sturridge was all set to make Liverpool’s centre stage his own.
But then the injuries took hold and by the time he was finally free, Klopp had taken over and was forced to build a Reds side that did not rely on the glorious talents of the striker, having to accept that his availability could only be an added bonus if they were to succeed.
The 32-year-old will wonder what could have been, no doubt. A fully fit and on form Sturridge was, for a brief time, the best striker Liverpool and England had to offer after all.
Yet he has still won both Premier League and Champions League titles, as well as the FA Cup, and scored in both the World Cup and the European Championships, ticking off every item on any hopeful young forward’s bucket list in the process.
And at least he lived up to the promise he made when joining Liverpool from Chelsea in a £12m deal in January 2013.
"I am humbled and happy to be here. Brendan Rodgers said he sees me here for a long time, and I also see myself here for a long time,” he said. “I've not signed here to play for a couple of years and then move on.
"I've signed to be here for as long as possible. It's a humongous club – for me, one of the biggest in the world – and to have the fans and world-class players we have here is amazing."
Had it not been for injury, Sturridge would arguably still be a Liverpool player and, having seen Salah and Sadio Mane score their 100th goals for the club this year, probably have reached such a figure himself many months ago.
Nephew of former Premier League striker Dean Sturridge, the 32-year-old had been tipped for greatness ever since his early days in the Manchester City academy.
And while his Reds journey only began in 2013, he had been linked with the club long before he made the actual move.
Man City’s star man during their 2005/06 FA Youth Cup campaign, he would score twice against Liverpool in the second leg, including a sensational long-range curler, as his side clinched a 2-0 victory.
Unfortunately for City, the Reds were already 3-0 up on aggregate and would get their hands on the trophy.
And former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing, who came on as a substitute in both matches, admits there was no doubt that the then 16-year-old was already destined to play at the highest level.
“We didn’t do any preparation on him really,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with the ECHO. “We expected him to be involved so the lads were ready to face him but there was no work done to stop him or anything.
“The standard of him, Richards and Michael Johnson made a huge difference to City. We had a 3-0 first leg lead so they brought Micah Richards in for the second leg to try and get it back. Daniel scored, including a real wonder goal but it wasn’t enough for them.
“Everything just seemed to be natural to him. He stood out. Everything looked, not easy for him, but he knew what to do and when.
“He knew when to turn and when to go in the pockets and get it. Technically he was very, very good at that age as well. We saw that with the wonder goal. We knew about his ability and there was already so much hype about him coming through. We knew it was going to be difficult.
“He was a good player but even though we lost that game 2-0, apart from his glimpse of excellence into the top bin, we kind of kept him, not quiet because he was still pulling the strings and doing a lot of things, but we kept the game in our favour to go on and win the cup.”
Spearing continued: “The three of them completely changed how City worked to be honest. His ability never changed. He obviously got better and better with the more experience he got, but as a player, you could see the standards and ability he actually had.
“As you get older, things change. He was still sharp. He was a natural finisher, he could score goals for fun, wherever he was and whatever he wanted to do. You could see him playing for City.
“You knew he had the ability to go on and get into and be involved in their first team. At that age, I think he might have been involved, training with them, already. You could see he was going to go on and play at City and you knew he would go on and make a name for himself in the game.”
From the start of the 2006/07 season, Sturridge trained regularly with the Man City first team and now, aged 17, he made his debut as a substitute against Reading in the February of that season.
Just three days before that senior bow, Michael Ball joined Man City from PSV Eindhoven.
City had let veterans Andrew Cole and Antoine Sibierski leave the club the previous summer as they began to create space for Sturridge break through into the first team.
And while Ball admitted to the ECHO he was surprised that the club were putting so much in the 17-year-old at the time, a first sight of the striker in action, along with a ringing endorsement from Richard Dunne, quickly put his mind at rest.
“When I first went to City, we had a few strikers, older guys, who were on the way out and leaving the club and I didn’t really see where City were going with this,” he said. “I spoke to Richard Dunne as I’d been training with them for a bit and had a training week before I signed.
“After training I just said, “Who’s going to be playing up front?” And he said, “Hopefully if Daniel trains, he’ll be involved.” And I was like, “Daniel who?” He hadn’t been available, he was injured. He had a knock so I hadn’t trained with him, he hadn’t been part of the first team training sessions during that week.
“It was only when we went on the field, Daniel showed what he was capable of. And I was like, “Ah right, okay. Now I understand.” City’s way of moving players on and putting a lot of trust in this young kid, but I took it at face-value what Richard Dunne said to me. He said, “This kid has got everything. Hopefully he can keep fit because we’re going to need him and he’s an excellent player.”
“From then on I looked at him in more depth in training. You mark him in training and see what he is about. He trained one day and then was involved in one of the fixtures and did well for a guy who wasn’t fully fit, wasn’t in the first team and just thrown in the mix. You could see he was going to be a player.”
He continued: “Daniel liked to create his own goals. Short, sharp games in training, he just needed half a yard, he’d do a turn and he’d find the bottom corner. They aren’t many strikers like that.
“Good quick feet and he had a great touch so he could go both ways. He’d go to his right side and then check back onto his left foot, which probably took a lot of defenders by surprise.
“When you train with players each and every day, you get to know what they’re trying to do but some players could still pull it off like Daniel could.
“He just does what you see the top strikers do. He does the simple things very well. Great control, great passing ability. To feed the ball to others in our games, he used to set up a lot of goals for us with his passing.
“His assisting was very good. He controlled it with his left foot and could produce a good pass with a good weight on it. It wasn’t just a kick or putting in an area, he could find his target pretty easily. So when he was shooting on target as well, he caught a lot of people off-guard.
“Those were my first thoughts and my first time being around Daniel Sturridge. He was a decent lad as well. He was part of the boys and loved the karaoke, the dancing and laughing and joking. But he was also serious on the training field. He had a left foot on him and worked hard in training to try and improve himself each and every day."
Unfortunately for Sturridge, he was already starting to pick up injuries as the problems that would dictate his career started to become evident.
“It’s a difficult one. I suffered with injuries as well but Daniel wasn’t in the same category as me because I never pulled a muscle so don’t know what it felt like,” Ball recalled. “Daniel just seemed to pick up little niggles here and there that set him back and I can understand it.
“You want to be fully fit to put yourself against the best teams in the world. You want to be at your 100% best. People are going to be rating you and you don’t want to be going on the pitch as a 17-year-old and only being 60% fit.
“Over the years I think that worked against him because you’re always playing catch-up. Catch-up against players and defenders who are 100% or playing 90%, when most of the time Daniel was only played a handful of games every season.”
Such injury lay-offs ensured Sturridge had only played 32 times for City when his contract was coming to an end in the summer of 2009, but that didn't stop them wanting to retain his services.
However, already attracting interest from other top clubs the then 19-year-old was stuck in two minds whether to stay at the club or seek pastures new elsewhere.
He would ultimately decide to move to Chelsea, a transfer which Ball felt was the wrong choice at the time, but not before talking to a couple of his senior team-mates for advice, including the one-time England international.
“He pulled me and Didi Hamann to one side before the end of the season at Man City,” he recalled. “We knew he was getting linked to other clubs but Man City wanted to keep him.
“And he pulled me for my experience and my thoughts, which was great from a young kid. To go, “I’ve got my own agent and my own football family background but I want to know what the lads in the changing room are thinking. What are their thoughts?” I know he pulled me and Didi Hamann, I don’t know if he pulled any others.
“I just said to him, “What’s your current contract situation? What’s on the table?” And I said, “Look, that’s a brilliant offer for you. For right now, I think that offer is fantastic for you. Get back playing football, get 25-30 games under your belt and then you can go back in, knock on the door and ask for a better contract. You have security there.”
“I think, because of his injuries, City offered him a four or five-year deal. They were my comments to him for him to take on board.
“Then I went away on holiday, picked up the paper and he’d signed for Chelsea so he didn’t listen to me! But each to their own, I can understand that. Chelsea would have been a bigger pull for him financially and it was the opportunity to train with the best players around at the time.”
Ball’s fear would ultimately be proven right as Sturridge found regular game-time limited at Stamford Bridge, often being utilised out of position or from the bench, in his first two seasons with the club.
But that saw him loaned to Bolton Wanderers for the second half of the 2010/11 season as he was finally given the opportunity to prove himself upfront.
Scoring eight goals from just 12 appearances for the Whites, it was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands.
“I saw him coming to Bolton as a youngster and I think he scored in his first game for us against Wolves,” Adam Bogdan recalled to the ECHO. “It wasn’t the best game but he managed to score on his debut and from then on, he went on to have a really successful loan spell with us. He’s an absolutely natural goalscorer.
“He’s really intelligent and self-assured. A top professional. The way he carries himself and the way he is around the dressing room. He really is a professional guy and you could see the talent, even at Bolton. It was brilliant from Owen Coyle to bring him in and worked well for everyone.”
And former Bolton defender David Wheater, who joined the Whites the same month as Sturridge, was equally impressed by the striker - even if he did steal his thunder at their new club!
“He came in in January transfer window the same time as me, and he took all my shine, I know that!” he joked to the ECHO. “He didn’t really shout or anything but once he got the ball, you knew something was going to happen.
“He was just so good and so quick with the ball, he was a nightmare to play against in training. You really didn’t want to face him one on one. He could use his right or his left foot equally as good really.
“People didn’t really see him use his right foot that much but when he did, wow, it was practically like his left. He was so quick and direct and he just wanted to score goals. He was quite quiet but once he got the ball, it was big problems for you!
“I think he scored a goal against West Ham where he got the ball just outside the box. There was no space or anything and he’s just chopped to the left an inch and curled it into the top corner. That showed the quality he had and that’s what we needed at the time.”
He continued: “He was quite quiet really in the changing room but he’d come from City and Chelsea so didn’t know what to expect. But once he started talking, he was just a normal, sound lad.
What was your favourite Daniel Sturridge moment at Liverpool? Let us know in the comments below
“That’s what you need in the changing rooms. He could have been a bit big-headed coming from a big team but he wasn’t, he was just one of the lads and definitely what we needed at that time.
“He scored four in his first four games and just gave the whole team and squad a boost and was a great lad to be around.”
Returning to Chelsea the following summer, Sturridge enjoyed his best spell at Stamford Bridge under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, however, he ended the season out of favour under successor Roberto Di Matteo as the London outfit went on to win the FA Cup and Champions League.
An unused substitute in both finals, against Liverpool and Bayern Munich respectively, the Reds were interested in signing the forward on loan in the summer of 2012 as a replacement for £35m flop Andy Carroll, only for Sturridge to insist he was only interested in a permanent departure.
Five months later, having found opportunities still limited at Chelsea, he completed a £12m move to Anfield and wasted no time in making himself at home.
Scoring in each of his first three appearances for the club, he finished his first season at Liverpool with 11 goals from just 16 appearances.
And goalkeeper coach John Achterberg remembers being wowed by Sturridge the very first time the striker linked up with his new team.
“They were looking for someone who has unbelievable speed and was a goalscorer,” the Dutchman told the ECHO. “From the first training session and the first game as well, it was unreal the way he started and we were thinking, “F*****g hell, that’s a player!”
“I remember his first training session, but I remember his first game as well. We played Mansfield and we won. He scored and you saw the speed he brought to the table and he just left players behind with his running.
“He opened up defences with the speed he had. He can produce something magical out of nothing. That was the situation really.
“He has so many skills on the ball. It is unreal, the qualities he has. We’d see it in training and then everyone would see it in the games too. I always say he is a special player. People always pay money to see players with this skill and quality.”
But it wasn’t just Achterberg who Sturridge made an impression on, with Luis Suarez also taken aback by just how talented his new strike-partner was.
“When Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho signed we were delighted,” the Uruguayan said in his 2014 autobiography. “It wasn’t just that they are good players, it was also that they both came with an attitude that said: ‘We’re here to help.’
“Things had not been going that well for either of them at their previous clubs, so they were determined to really make it work at Liverpool, to prove themselves… They made a huge difference.
“I had seen Daniel play at Chelsea, although truth be told I didn’t even know that he had been at Manchester City.
“But I had watched him play and I liked him a lot. I could see that he could make a difference.
“When I watched him in training, my appreciation for his ability grew. I knew that he was quick, but the way that he could finish really struck me. Every shot went in. Every time.
“He had the talent and Liverpool offered him the opportunity and continuity that he hadn’t had at Chelsea. He had the ambition to make sure that if he was given that, he would perform.”
He continued: “The first time I spoke to Daniel at Melwood, he surprised me because he said to me: “Together, you and I can do something big here.”
“It’s natural that players can feel that a new signing is going to compete with them for a place and I’m no different. Nor, I assumed, was Daniel.
“It’s not normal for a new player to be quite so bold as Daniel was that day, and I did momentarily think, “What’s this guy saying that to me for?” But right from the start, he saw it as the two of us going out there together.”
With Suarez suspended at the start of the 2013/14 season for his infamous bite on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, Sturridge started the campaign in sensational form as Liverpool’s main striker with six goals from his first five appearances, including a winner against Manchester United.
However, captain Steven Gerrard later confirmed in his autobiography, released in 2015, the lengths he had to go to to convince the striker to face the Red Devils, even with Suarez absent, as question marks about his mentality in the face of his injury record started to arise.
“Our shared past with United was so tangled, so embittered, it consumed me,” he wrote. “I was always desperate to play against them, even if there had been more defeats than victories. It seemed different for Daniel Sturridge.
“My memories of that game are dominated by the build-up, and Daniel feeling he was touch and go in terms of his fitness and desire to play. Facing Man U without Luis (Suarez) was tough enough, but if we lost Daniel as well, most of our ammunition would be gone.
“We stayed at the Hope Street Hotel and had our usual team walk before the match. I positioned myself so that I walked next to Daniel for the whole 15 minutes. I had to try to persuade him to play. I knew how badly we needed him to get three points against United… our best chance of beating United pinned to Sturridge leading the line.”
“Daniel is one of those people you have to boost sometimes with a "Come on! You're our main man, just go for it!". You never needed to say that to Luis. It was almost as if Luis was indestructible. I don’t think he ever missed a game through injury at Liverpool… Luis doesn't really do treatment rooms. I remember him playing against Arsenal with a hamstring injury. That's the Suarez mentality. Luis Suarez would run through a brick wall for you.
“Some players with unbelievable talent are also born with additional gifts - toughness, resilience, sheer belief. Others have more vulnerability and self-doubt. It’s as simple as that. Luis and Daniel had different mentalities. I knew all about Luis, and I’d since seen that
“Daniel was someone you had to reassure every now and again. But before the Man United game it was more complicated. He had a genuine niggle and he didn’t feel right.”
He continued: “I had spoken to Chris Morgan and Glen Driscoll, our head of performance about Daniel’s injury - because I couldn’t try and persuade him to play if he was not fit enough…
“I asked them: “What’s the situation with Daniel?” Chris looked at me. “We think he can play. He has an issue with his thigh but we’re sure he’ll be fine. We think he just needs an encouraging push.” Glen agreed, giving me still more confidence…
“Chris could not be sure how long he would last but he back me to reassure Daniel that he was medically fit to play. He and the other physios, as well as the manager, had tried to cajole him into playing without any success.
“It was yet another of my tasks as captain, but I was probably more like a fan on the walk trying to persuade Daniel, eventually begging him to play. I said if it was no good after 10 or 15 minutes, he could come off. I said all the fans, and everyone in the team, would appreciate him giving it a go.
“I was trying to boost Daniel, to help him find the confidence in himself to ignore the pain and take a small risk by playing. But I also wanted to win the match. I was desperate to have Daniel on at the start. "Alright", Daniel said, "I'll give it a go". At last I could turn my attention to United.”
Suarez returned from suspension later that month as the duo both scored in a 3-1 victory over Sunderland as the SAS partnership was fully unleashed on Premier League defences.
But despite it being one of the most famous pairings in Liverpool’s history, Gerrard believes the duo shared a strained relationship behind the scenes at Anfield.
“There was always a little bit of needling rivalry between Sturridge and Suarez,” he recalled. “SAS was not a partnership in the mould of John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. Suarez and Sturridge worked instead as two gifted individuals.
“Brendan often spoke about the fact that they were like soloists vying with each other rather than playing together as a harmonious duo. They never said much to each other in training but their skill and vision still produced a telepathy on the pitch.
“It was a dream to play behind them. One would come short, the other would go long and, suddenly, unlike when only Torres was up front, I had two striking options for my next pass. It worked beautifully…
“Each was happy enough if the other scored. I didn’t see them having the selfishness of Cristiano Ronaldo, who just has to be the main man. It never got nasty but there was an edge between them.
“There probably were some games when Luis was a bit heavy on Daniel. We kept an eye on it but it didn’t matter that Sturridge and Suarez would never be mates. If they shared fifty goals a season I wouldn’t care if they never said as many words to each other.”
Since leaving Liverpool, his MSN triumvirate alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barcelona has probably usurped his partnership with Sturridge, but Suarez was not blind to how successful the pairing was.
And while he admits his nose was slightly put out of joint by the striker’s arrival as Rodgers’ tried to make the SAS pairing click, he explained how there was no stopping them when elaborating on what made the duo so deadly after they had both been given time to adjust.
“Daniel was about to become the best partner I’d had in my career,” he said in his 2014 autobiography. “Daniel would have been entitled to be worried, to think to himself: “Luis is the number nine, I’m not going to get many chances here either, just like at Chelsea.”
“He probably thought that, initially, he would have to wait for his chance, rather than necessarily to play with me all the time. And to start we didn’t always play together. But Brendan wanted us both to be in the team and Daniel knew that we needed that help. We knew it too.
“Playing us both did involve making changes, though, and I was not entirely sure about it to begin with. Brendan asked if I could play some games on the right or the left, or even as a number 10. I think I played as a number 10 more often that not and that was essentially to make it possible for us both to play at the same time.
“When Brendan first asked, there was a bit of me that thought: “Hang on, I’m the number nine.” But he was intelligent in the way he presented it to me, saying: “Luis, we need another striker so that we don’t rely solely on you and also to try to open space up for you.”
Despite the SAS scoring 52 goals between them in the Premier League in 2013/14, it wasn’t enough to win the title as a Steven Gerrard slip in a defeat to Chelsea and a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, christened ‘Crystanbul’, resulted in the Reds sacrificing their lead at the top of the table and missing out on the title by two points to champions Man City.
That summer, after biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, Suarez got his desired move to Barcelona as he left Liverpool in a £65m deal, with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli signed to replace him.
With the Uruguayan gone, Sturridge was now the Reds’ main man with their striking hopes resting on his shoulders, and he started the season with a late winner against Southampton, before impressing alongside the Italian in a new-look attack as Liverpool thrashed Tottenham 3-0 at White Hart Lane.
However, an injury suffered on international duty would ultimately see his Anfield career slowly start to crumble, ensuring Rodgers’ Balotelli gamble backfired in the process.
“As soon as I accepted Suarez was as good as gone my plan was to pump up Daniel Sturridge,” Gerrard wrote. “I spent the summer of 2014 telling him how good he was and how much we needed him.
“I had no idea then that Daniel’s season would be affected so unluckily by injuries - but during the build-up to a new campaign I invested a lot of hope in him... Keep feeding him and he’ll always score for you…
“Balotelli made his Liverpool debut away to Tottenham and he did well. He wasn’t outstanding but he worked hard for the team and he had two or three chances to score. He even looked like a team player.
“It would not last. Daniel Sturridge was injured ten days later (and) would be out for many weeks. Suddenly the Mario gamble was in jeopardy.”
With the striker limited to just 18 appearances that season as Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League in the group-stages, finished a distant sixth in the table and suffered disappointing semi-final defeats in both League and FA Cup, Rodgers found himself under pressure.
Balotelli was swiftly discarded as Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings were all brought in to share the attacking load with Sturridge.
However, with the quartet all suffering injuries at one time or another during the early weeks of the season, some more serious than others, the Reds’ poor form continued and Rodgers lost his job in October 2015 following a 1-1 draw at Everton.
Step forward Jurgen Klopp.
Robbed of Ings by a serious ACL injury and quickly deciding Benteke wasn’t for him, the German turned to Firmino to lead his attacking line as he grew frustrated by frequent questions about Sturridge at a time when the striker was still sidelined.
And Bogdan’s recollection of the striker missing training as a result of such injuries, with him living in fear of further setbacks, perhaps explaining Klopp’s frustration.
“At Liverpool, when I was there and Jurgen Klopp came, I remember he struggled with injuries,” the Hungary international recalled. “He had a big one just before I came and whenever he felt something, he wouldn’t train because he wasn’t sure that, if he pushed on, he could get another big injury.
“I can’t remember him training all the time, I think there were a lot of injury patterns when he didn’t train. But when he did train and he did play, he was magnificent.
“Of course he started the Europa League final and scored that goal but injuries stuttered his career at Liverpool when I was there.”
And Achterberg confirms that Sturridge’s injuries were frustrating for everyone at Liverpool, suggesting why Klopp quickly realised he’d have to plan without the striker.
“For Studge, it’s very frustrating really. It was for us as well,” he said. “You want him on the field every day when you have a player like this because you know he can win you any game.
“It’s difficult to deal with for him. When he was fit, there was always a good chance he’d be starting. It’s been difficult for him. I don’t want to say he’s lost speed but I think he sometimes was probably afraid to run full out because he wanted to stay fit.
“The boss would always say, “I heard he had massive speed but I’ve not seen it.” But then he did see it one game, he outrun a whole defence but soon after that, he got an injury again. That’s frustrating for him.”
Klopp would go public with his own frustrations in November 2015 when addressing’s Sturridge’s own mentality regarding injury.
"Everyone wants him back on the pitch but we all have to learn,” the German said. “The situation is Daniel was very often injured in the last few months, and maybe years, so it is normal when you get back in training usually it is not the quality, but you need training.
"Your body has to learn to adapt to new intensities of training and in this time you have to learn what is serious pain and what is only pain."
However, just a few weeks later, the German was given his first real glimpse of the striker’s talents in a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton as Sturridge scored a brace.
Now he understood the talent he had at his disposal.
“I said to him after the game, “Now I know what everybody’s talking about”,” Klopp said. “Of course, I know about his quality. It’s important for us we have these good strikers.
“How should I know (if Sturridge can get back to his career-best form of 2013/14)? Maybe he can be better. Write this: ‘Daniel Sturridge can be much better than he was’.”
Bogdan started in goal for Liverpool that night and he admits it was a performance that made him realise how lucky he was to have signed for the Reds, even if it had a less than ideal start.
“I remember the game, the 6-1, and thinking, “Oh my god, I’m playing in a team that goes away to Southampton and scores six?! F**k! How lucky I am, this is the best thing.”” he recalled.
“Mane scored a header against me in the first minute and I thought, “F**k sake!” because we had a lot of ex-Southampton players so it was a little bit of a hostile atmosphere towards us.
“I thought, “F**k, first minute. There we go.” But then we turned it around in a magnificent way. Daniel scored two and Origi scored a hat-trick.
“If he could have stayed fit, it could have been a different story.”
And Bogdan believes, as good as Sturridge was, by this point injuries had taken their toll and left him perhaps unsuited to the style of football Klopp wanted to implement at Anfield.
“Staying fit, especially with Jurgen Klopp’s way of playing, it is very, very demanding,” the goalkeeper explains. “And it was very, very demanding from the beginning when he arrived.
“If you’re injured and out of the team, someone else comes in and puts in a good performance and then the manager trusts him more. Then you come in but it’s so stop-start and you’re not going to be in the starting XI all the time.
“The way Klopp took them to Premier League and Champions League glory, the way the team had to perform was as one club. Everybody is attacking, everybody is defending and everybody is doing counter-pressing.
“He was proven but it is a very demanding style of play and anybody who couldn’t stay fit or anybody who couldn’t perform. He changed the players to his liking or the players who could accommodate to his style, whether it’s with fitness or the way they can play.”
He continued: “Maybe that style of play didn’t suit him (Sturridge) but his talent is incredible and so easy to watch. A beautiful left foot and one v one situations, you bet your money on him, all day long, that he is going to score.
“He had an amazing career at Liverpool and everybody saw what he was capable of. The only regret for me, as a fan and lover of English football, is that the fans didn’t see more years of him because of injuries because that would have been an absolute treat for fans, his team-mates and for him.
“To see more of him at the highest level. That’s the nicest thing I can say about him.”
Of course, there would still be highs for Sturridge in his final years at Liverpool despite the injuries and seeing Mane and Salah join up to form a deadly front three with Firmino at his expense.
He’d help the Reds win the Champions League in his final season, scoring an opener against Paris Saint-Germain, having impressed his manager enough in pre-season to be handed the opportunity to see out his contract with the club after a disappointing half-season stint on loan at West Bromwich Albion as he suffered relegation.
Meanwhile, he also played a key role in the 2016/17 season run-in, scoring in a crucial 4-0 victory away at West Ham United, as Liverpool qualified for the Champions League for the first time under the German.
And he scored an impressive 13 goals in 25 appearances in Klopp's first season with the club, including vital Europa League strikes against Manchester United and Villarreal, as well as one of the Reds’ best ever final goals as they lost 3-1 to Sevilla in the same competition.
Had the Reds won, Sturridge would be remembered as even more of a hero at Anfield rather than an almost man, delivering such moments when his side just fell short.
But Bogdan was not surprised at the quality of the striker’s goal that day at all, having been on the receiving end of such efforts on numerous occasions in training at Melwood.
“I trained with him at Liverpool as well and I always said to my mates, if somebody asked me, “Who is the best striker?” in terms of finishing abilities, I would always say Sturridge because he was just so natural,” he said.
“He could go with the left foot, get it out from his feet and find space with basically one step. His goal against Sevilla in the Europa League final, that sort of finish. In four-a-side or five-a-side small-sided games, the defender is in front of him and you block one angle, but he still goes with the outside of his foot and the ball goes around you and into the far corner.
“Even if you were in good form in training and doing really well, I’m in a good position and the defender is in front of him and blocking the near post, with one step, I remember this vividly, he hits it with the outside of his foot from the left of the area. I know if he shoots, where it is going but still you can’t save it.
“He just puts this curl on it with one step, quick as f**k, and it’s in. You know what is happening and what is coming but you still cannot reach it. With his skill, he was capable of that. That’s what he was and what he is and there is a way back for sure.”
While his game-time might have been limited, Sturridge did prove his fitness when he returned to Liverpool after going on loan to West Brom, with his return of 27 appearances in 2018/19 the second-most of his Anfield career.
But unfortunately for the striker, the Reds had grown without him having realised they couldn’t rely on him, with only eight of those appearances coming from the start as a result.
Goals were also limited as a result due to his bit-part role, but that didn’t stop him from producing what one of his greatest ever goals against former club Chelsea.
It would be the last of his 67 goals, coming in September 2018 with his final appearance following in May in the Reds’ famous 4-0 victory of Barcelona as he entered the action as an 89th minute substitute.
An unused substitute as Liverpool won the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, Sturridge’s exit was confirmed days after the final, while he was banned from football for six weeks, four of which were suspended, for breaching betting rules after instructing his brother to bet on a possible move to Sevilla prior to his loan switch to West Brom in January 2018.
Signing a three-year contract with Trabzonspor in August 2019, that deal would be torn up the following March ahead of the striker being hit with a four-month worldwide ban for breaching betting rules.
Of course, his injury problems persisting in Turkey would not have helped although Sturridge did still score seven goals from 16 appearances, proving he is still very much a natural goalscorer.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, the striker remained out of contract despite repeated links with moves back to the Premier League or the MLS.
Yet with his own injury past and clubs struggling with the financial ramifications, no club was willing to take a gamble. Not even Mallorca after joining them on trial in the summer.
That is until A-League side Perth Glory, who signed the 32-year-old on a one-year contract at the start of the month.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to try a new challenge,” he said in a statement released by the club. “When the opportunity came about, it felt like the right thing to do, to take my talent somewhere where I can enjoy my football in a competitive league and try and help the team be as successful as they possibly can be.
“I’m going to put my best foot forward, work hard and try and help the team win each game that comes by and then we’ll see where we end up when the season finishes.
“I can’t wait to play at HBF Park and hopefully put a smile on a lot of faces.”
Sturridge will score goals in Australia, there is no doubt about that. But whether he can put his injury problems of the past behind him, that’s another question entirely.
“It’s a shame. Michael Owen was similar. Burst on the scene, did well but then started picking up injuries and found it difficult,” Ball reflected. “You get moves off what your past is.
“Daniel, whether he is mechanically built like that, maybe that’s just the way it is. Some players do just pick up a lot of things.
“But Daniel has worked very, very hard to find himself a club. Being out of football for three or four months is a long time, never mind over a year. We all know it’s a short career.
“When you have the ability of Daniel Sturridge not playing football, it’s a shame.”
“He had that quality because he had magic in his feet, he could produce a goal out of nothing,” Achterberg added. “He could beat anyone with his skill. That’s the truth. It’s a shame we’ve not seen him playing for so long because he is such a good player and I think he can still do it.
“I don’t know (he was out the game for over a year). He’s a really good guy, I cannot say anything bad about him. I always enjoyed watching him in training, doing his stuff.”
But one final story about Sturridge says more than anything he has achieved on the pitch and it comes courtesy of Spearing, a player he was up against in the FA Youth Cup final back in 2006 all those years ago.
The duo were briefly team-mates at Liverpool in the summer of 2013 before the midfielder was sold to Bolton Wanderers during pre-season.
Yet they are still in contact with Sturridge regularly asking after Spearing’s close friend and former Reds team-mate Stephen Darby, who was forced to announce his retirement from professional football in September 2018, at the age of 29, after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
And the former Liverpool midfielder revealed how the striker is feeling ahead of his move Down Under.
“I played against him for years coming through the academy and then we had one pre-season together at Liverpool,” Spearing recalled. “He’s a great lad on and off the field.
“Even now, I still speak to him over social media. When we do speak, he’ll ask me quite often about how Darbs is doing. So yeah, I’m still in touch with him, not on a daily basis but whenever I need a chat or something’s going on in his life.
“I congratulated him on the move to Australia. He’s looking forward to it. He’s back in the game now and he’s buzzing. He’s looking forward to getting over there and getting started.
“Hopefully, considering the time he’s had out of the game, it can be a fresh start for Daniel. I know he’s got a family now so it’s a change of scenery for them. Fingers crossed it works for him.
“I mean I know it will, with his ability he’ll stand out. He’s going to be a marquee player over there and will score plenty of goals for Perth.
“I just hope it works out for him and the main thing is he enjoys his football again.”