Looking back, it was probably never going to work out between Daniel Sturridge and Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. The will was there, and they gave it a decent go, but sometimes two people are not meant to be together and one is left with no choice but to move out, which in this case was always going to be Sturridge. Bags packed, goodbyes said, he has joined West Bromwich Albion in a loan deal that signals the end of his time on Merseyside and leaves many of those concerned lingering on what could have been.
Because it was less than four years ago that Sturridge was a shining light at Anfield. Liverpool had dazzled during an ultimately doomed title charge and while Luis Suárez grabbed most of the headlines, Sturridge’s contribution was also notable – 21 goals, with many of them sensational in their imagination as well as execution.
There was the circus trick of a strike against Stoke in January 2014, the lob over Tim Howard in a 4-0 rout of Everton later that month and the chip against West Brom the previous October that was as exquisite as it was nonchalant. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool’s manager at the time, claimed Sturridge had “every tool and every quality” to be a world-class forward. It was hard to argue with his assessment.
Yet here we are, with Sturridge moving to play for the fifth club of his career after West Brom agreed to pay a £1.5m loan fee for his services amid interest from, among others, Newcastle United. The deal is expected to become a permanent one in the summer.
Circumstance and misfortune lay at the heart of Sturridge’s demise at Liverpool. He found himself with the wrong body at the wrong time, one that kept breaking down at the very time a manager arrived at the club who demanded his players perform with consistent intensity.
Press, press and press some more. That has been Klopp’s mantra since succeeding Rodgers in October 2015 and Sturridge has not been able to carry out those orders due to a litany of injuries, to his thigh, hamstring, hip, knee. They have combined to not only restrict his playing time but also chip away at his talents. Sturridge can still finish with aplomb but he simply isn’t the player he once was – quick, dynamic, calm under pressure and ruthless in front of goal. Part artist, part assassin.
Sturridge made 63 appearances under Klopp, but only 32 of them were from the start of matches and it is telling that the more the German moulded Liverpool in his own image the less influence Sturridge had on the team. In the 2015-16 season, 72.7% of his appearances were starts, in 2016-17 that figure dropped to 40.7% and this season to 35.7%.
In his place Roberto Firmino has established himself as Liverpool’s principal forward, and while the Brazilian may lack Sturridge’s precision in front of goal, his scoring rate is more than decent and allied to an ability to press opposition defenders that makes him central to Klopp’s plans in more ways than one.
Sturridge’s time on the sidelines became such that it was more of a surprise to see his name included in Liverpool’s matchday squad than not, with his last appearance coming in December, in the 7-0 victory over Spartak Moscow. Partly that is because of further aches and niggles, but Sturridge has been fit for some weeks yet still not featured, with Klopp making it clear prior to Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat to West Brom that the player needed to move on if he wanted first-team football.
The injuries have not only taken a toll on Sturridge’s body but also on his reputation. Uncommitted, weak, lazy – those have been the accusations thrown his way, with Steven Gerrard’s claim in his 2015 autobiography that he had to plead with Sturridge to play with a knock during the 2013-14 campaign only adding fuel to the fire. The inferno raged further when in November 2015, Klopp said Sturridge had to learn “what is serious pain and what is only pain” in order to overcome his injury setbacks.
The lazy tag is in itself lazy given Sturridge had undergone hip surgery in May 2015 and a rehabilitation trip to Boston the previous Christmas in order to get himself fit. Progress was made but then came further setbacks and ultimately he could not shake off the criticism.
In total, Sturridge scored 63 goals in 133 appearances for Liverpool following his arrival from Chelsea in January 2013. That is an elite-level return and it says much about Sturridge’s talents that even during his struggles for form and fitness, he remained a potent force. He was Liverpool’s top scorer in the 2015-16 season, scoring 13 times in 25 appearances, with the last of those a well-executed outside-of-the-foot strike in the Europa League final defeat to Sevilla.
There is angst among Liverpool fans over Klopp’s decision to move Sturridge on given it reduces the team’s reserve striker to Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke ahead of a crucial stage of the season. But from the manager and player’s points of view it makes sense - Klopp cannot accommodate Sturridge into his way of playing and Sturridge needs to be playing, especially if he is going to earn an England recall ahead of the World Cup.
Ultimately, though, it feels a shame things did not work out for Sturridge at Liverpool. They appeared the perfect fit but, in the end, it was impossible to avoid an increasingly inevitable divorce.