He grows up watching Brazilian Ronaldo play and studies his movement from 12 hours away in Birmingham. From that point on, he knows his position on the field is up front. Not before long he joins the youth academy system in England at the ripe age of six. And then transitions through four academy teams in a short span of seven years. However, this is not because he cannot perform on the pitch. In that seventh year, he is the leading scorer and player of the tournament in the Nike Cup, the largest U-15 tournament in the world.
He signs his professional contract at the age of 17, and the boy becomes a man. Here, in Manchester City, he suffers a year end hip injury early in the season, and this is only a foreshadowing of what is to come in his story.
His contract expires, and he dashes to sign a contract with a team that sports a darker blue kit, even though they are not in need of his services. Up front, they play Didier Drogba, one of the best attackers in the world. The 24-year old still finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net and as he grows, so does the team around him. And while he does pick up a Champions League in the process, his tenure with this team ends in a similar fashion as his tenure with a lighter blue kit: injuries.
So, he’s on the move again. This time, he will not receive another blue kit, as he opts to switch to another primary color, red. He becomes a Red, signing the biggest contract he has ever negotiated. This is his time to shine. He is now in his prime, and the English media have their eyes on him.
He scores in his debut just seven minutes into the match. He then becomes the first Red in 30 years to score in his first three appearances for the club without playing a full 90 in any game.
He scores some screamers and finishes the season with a hat trick. So, here comes an injury, right?
No. Next comes a glorious season up front that should’ve ended in hoisting the English Premier League Cup, if not for a few minor slip ups and lost points. His goal tally is second to only that of his teammate and soon to be Barcelona striker and infamous biter, Luis Suarez. Suarez has been linked to numerous clubs for a transfer, and if he goes, there is surely only one person who the Reds can count on to put in goals. With Suarez gone, he is the reigning Golden Boot winner. And with the keys to the offense, what can stop him?
Only the i-word. Injury after injury after injury after injury. The media creates the narrative, and makes it his fault, as if he did not take care of his body well enough. Working its way through his leg, the quintessential body part for football, the injury travels from the hip to the thigh to the calf. And just when he is finally doing what he does best, putting goals in the back of the net, his hip is angry again against the rival Manchester United. He finishes this season with not only an injury, but a hip surgery that will cause him to miss the end of the new season. But at least this means no more injuries.
Everything is up from here, until it isn’t. This season, the hip isn’t a problem. But the knee, thigh, and hamstring keep him out of the starting lineup. And even though he should still be in his prime, ending the season as the Reds’ top scorer, it’s just not in the cards for him. Then, he becomes a reserve, and he sits and sits and sits. And the fans talk and talk and talk. And Liverpool wins and wins and wins some more. He even picks up and Champions League medal as a parting gift from the illustrious club, but once again, he is not part of the core that wins it all.
Daniel Sturridge will always be my favorite player and is the biggest what-if in England football. His story shows that you cannot do what you want to do unless your body complies. From runner-up for the Golden Boot to out of the English Premier League in his “prime”. Those injuries weren’t only physical. The repetitive nature made them mental, and the fickle fans only added insult to injury (literally!). But unlike many, I don’t blame Daniel. We must blame the beautiful game, with its fickle nature and its cold temperament.