A game I played in April 1997 sticks out in my mind for two reasons. Firstly, Bruce Grobbelaar was playing for the opposition. It was my tenth appearance for Millwall and he was playing in goal for Plymouth Argyle, but that's not the main reason the game is still memorable for me.
During the first half, I'm not sure exactly when, I left the field because of an injury to my right foot. I had gotten a bang on my instep and felt pain every time I put weight through it. I was substituted within a few minutes after it was clear to the bench that I could not continue. I knew differently, though. I wasn't exactly pain-free but I was more than fine to have carried on for the rest of the game. I said nothing, however, and limped off the pitch.
Daniel Sturridge has been ruled out of action for a period of six weeks. Scan results confirmed he suffered a grade two thigh strain during Liverpool training at Melwood on Monday. It was hoped he would be available for selection for this afternoon's game with Crystal Palace; instead, he will have to wait until the new year for his first Liverpool appearance since August.
That's the most straightforward part to all of this. He has an identified injury and he will not be able to play for a specified period. However, it becomes a little more complex when other factors are brought into play, namely his tendency to pick up injuries, his inability to shake them off and his willingness to play through pain when the situation requires.
Alan Brazil touched on these areas when he spoke on air with his Talksport co-host Mike Parry on Wednesday morning. "I have heard that the staff, I won't say who, are getting just a little bit fed up of what is going on there with Sturridge," he said, before being pressed for more information from Parry. "Well, let's put it this way. I think Brendan (Rodgers) is very, very upset . . . I mean, what is going on here? Why is he (Sturridge) always injured?"
Of course, he could just have been referring to the frustrations felt by any manager faced with the continued absence of a key player.
Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol, speaking on ESPN last week, had this to say. "I don't think any of us should be that surprised. Other than last season . . . Sturridge's career has always had injuries . . . And when he gets injured. . . most professionals will pick injuries up, little nicks and knocks and they battle through; this guy, when he gets injured, is out for months at a time."
Obviously, he could just have been talking about things like bad luck, but a friend of mine was a little less ambiguous in his assessment. He questioned whether Sturridge needed to be out for so long after each injury. There was no doubt as to what he meant and I've no reason to think he was anywhere near the truth, but it's something that's said more and more about players who repeatedly find themselves injured.
Suspicion often accompanies reports of injuries to certain players. The question as to whether the player has done enough to avoid getting hurt is one thing. The issue as to how much they push themselves to return is another. Locating someone's pain threshold is difficult to do from afar, but it's an issue which is beginning to hang in the air when Sturridge's career is discussed. The club has commissioned a report into his medical history of similar injuries after picking up the latest injury in what Rodgers described as "quite an innocuous action".
However, Rodgers said it was "extremely unfair" to suggest Sturridge could do more to prevent injuries. "He's just been unfortunate. He wants to be playing," he said on Friday, before insisting he was "as down as I've ever seen anyone" following last week's setback.
The fact is, though, many players could do more. It was certainly the case for me in my early career but I didn't have the maturity to play on when things got tough. The crowd were hammering me and it was easier to be on the sidelines looking on than in the middle getting torn to shreds. Players generally don't admit to things like this, but it's well known within football clubs that not all injured players are unable to play.
Sturridge is genuinely injured. Nobody can dispute that after scans results confirmed it, but the more he finds himself in these situations the more people will look beyond medical records and start suspecting something else. That's already starting.
Repeated spells in the physio room can lead to accusations of slacking, but the only way to respond to it, as ever, is on the field of play. Sturridge's reputation will be tainted if this goes on for much longer.
Sunday Indo Sport