'The only greed Sturridge has is for success'
Misunderstood striker finally realising potential at Anfield
Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is not only competing with strike partner Luis Suarez for this year's golden boot, but for the role of the Premier League's prodigal son.
The difference with the English striker is it is not clear why he found himself needing to redeem his reputation upon arrival at Anfield.
Grievances against him – emanating from difficult spells at Chelsea and Manchester City – were based on whispers rather than public moans. "A nightmare behind the scenes," was one accusation from Stamford Bridge. "Too interested in fame and money," another from City, still sore after losing him to Chelsea via a tribunal.
Such murmurs may explain why Liverpool twice baulked at signing Sturridge sooner. When Fernando Torres moved to Chelsea for £50m in 2011 there was a brief discussion about a player swap. Liverpool just wanted cash.
In 2012, Rodgers delayed the signing pending further due diligence. Even when Sturridge joined six months later there was none of the fanfare associated with a major signing. There was no introductory press conference and the quotes welcoming him were doused in circumspection.
"If he wants to stay at this level, this is probably his last chance," Rodgers said.
Sturridge has scored 32 goals in 39 Liverpool appearances since. Last weekend he became the first striker since Ruud Van Nistelrooy to score in eight consecutive Premier League games and he will lead England's attack in the World Cup. Now those who have helped along the way willingly denounce what they claim was a trickle of misinformation about Sturridge's true character.
He joined the Manchester City academy aged 13 having played at youth level for Aston Villa and Coventry. Jim Cassell, City's former academy director, says Sturridge was unfairly maligned.
"The one thing I have read about Daniel that irritated me more than anything was when people used the word greedy. Absolute rubbish," said Cassell.
"The only greed Daniel had was for success. He was ambitious and he had that incredible desire to do well you want in young players. I recall him telling me he wanted to become the youngest Premier League player in history at City. He knew how talented he was and he wanted to fulfil it.
"City had a very good reputation for bringing players through and that was the motivation for him coming to us because he believed we could help realise those ambitions. He never gave us a minute's trouble.
"We won the Youth Cup in 2008, Daniel was already playing and scoring for the first team. He was injured just before the second leg of the final against Chelsea so wasn't available, but he came to see us asking to be picked because he wanted to help the team. That's how much of a team player he was.
"We were upset when he left City. Once they leave the academy to join the first team set-up you don't know what happens. All I know from my experience working with him is he is a fantastic lad. He is the best English striker out there. He has always been technically brilliant."
The theory repeated at Chelsea is Sturridge had no inclination to be patient when the path to the first team was blocked by expensive signings he did not believe warranted selection above him.
"There's probably an element of that but I also think a lot of what we're seeing from him at Liverpool now comes down to maturity," said Cassell.
"Liverpool deserve a lot of credit for the signing, seeing the potential was there. I don't believe you can make a decision on a player at 18 because they have to adapt to that higher level. Players like Daniel and Adam Lallana at Southampton are showing that it can be at 24 or 25 when you show what you can do week in, week out."
Professional disillusionment followed Sturridge to Stamford Bridge, where he generally played wide. His next move, a six-month loan spell at Bolton in 2011, offered a hint that his capability was not appreciated by his parent club.
"I spent an hour speaking with Daniel before we got him on loan and I have never met a young player with so much hunger and desire," said former Bolton manager Owen Coyle, who saw Sturridge score eight in 11 games at the Reebok. "It was fantastic to have someone so driven, so eager to learn and so determined to succeed. He's a really humble kid.
"When Brendan was thinking of signing Daniel he called me up because he was getting some background. I said I was excited for him and his club at what Daniel would do alongside a player like Luis Suarez. I can't speak highly enough of him. I believe he can go on to become a truly world-class player.
"He scores every type of goal, has an incredible first touch and is great passing the ball, too. He will only get better. I wanted to keep him at Bolton longer.
"Andre Villas-Boas , who had just joined Chelsea, is a friend. He said he'd take a look at Daniel in pre-season first. After a week, Andre said he was sorry but there was no way he could let a player of that quality go. He wanted him in his side, and to be fair, he tried to integrate Daniel into the Chelsea team.
"It is difficult for some of the younger players when a team like Manchester City or Chelsea has £20m strikers who are always going to play, so it's natural he would have been frustrated.
"But all this about Daniel's attitude is a complete misconception. It is utter rubbish, actually. A myth."
Rodgers' management of Sturridge remains one of carrot and stick, demonstrated when he scored twice in the derby but was substituted after ignoring a pass to Suarez. Ahead of Liverpool's trip to Southampton, the Liverpool manager urged Sturridge to learn from Suarez's capacity to not only score goals, but create as many.
"We're looking to improve his game tactically because he is already an incredible goalscorer but in the modern game you won't only be judged on that, you can't just be a player who stands up there and gets goals," Rodgers said.
The image of high maintenance lingers, but few are talking about the gamble of signing him now.
Whatever the truth of the curious reputation that led the striker to six Premier League clubs by the age of 24, the nightmares he prolongs these days are at the expense of the title rivals who allowed him to slip through their grasp. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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