x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Daniel Sturridge has made it across the Bridge at Liverpool

List of English players who have effectively taken a sabbatical by disappearing into Chelsea's bench is horrifying, but Sturridge is an exception. Jonathan Wilson explains.

Daniel Sturridge scored a well-crafted goal past Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Michael Steele / Getty Images
Daniel Sturridge scored a well-crafted goal past Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Michael Steele / Getty Images

When Daniel Sturridge left Chelsea for Liverpool last January, he seemed the poster boy for the failings of English youth development.

He was 23, had looked promising in glimpses, but had started just 47 Premier League games, 11 of them on loan at Bolton, and many of them on the flank, rather than in his preferred position of centre-forward.

He had promise, quick feet, a good brain, but he was never quite good enough to ease big-name strikers out of the side.

There was always a Jo or a Robinho or a Craig Bellamy or a Didier Drogba or a Fernando Torres in the way. He excelled in that loan spell at Bolton, but it was not enough. He wasn't proven, so managers under the pressure a big budget brings never gave him his chance.

Like so much young English talent, Sturridge waited, a ghost of a player, known largely in rumour rather than fact, his talents undeveloped through a lack of opportunity.

The list of English players who have effectively taken a sabbatical by disappearing into Chelsea's bench is horrifying: Shaun Wright-Phillips, Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell, Scott Sinclair, Michael Mancienne, Tom Taiwo ... and who knows how many other talented youth teamers we have not heard of.

This is the decision young players must face: do they join a big club with great facilities and lots of money and risk disappearing, or do they stay at a smaller side, where they will be able to play and develop?

Sturridge, at least, was able to keep in the public eye sufficiently to earn a move to Liverpool, where his form has been exceptional. He has started 13 Premier League games for Liverpool and already has 12 goals.

Of players who have played 1,000 minutes or more in the Premier League this calendar year, only Aston Villa's Christian Benteke has a better minutes-per-goal ratio and his total is aided by taking penalties.

Sturridge's two goals this season were very different, but both showed a player of prodigious ability capable of conjuring a goal from the slightest glimmer of an opportunity.

Against Stoke City on the opening day, he almost caressed an angled drive into the bottom corner from 25 yards. His strike last weekend against Aston Villa was a masterpiece. It was Sturridge who played the ball inside to Steven Gerrard, from where it was worked left to Jose Enrique.

Sturridge, meanwhile, drifted infield, giving the impression he had done his job, his indifference deflecting attention so he found a pocket of room just outside the box.

Jose Enrique played the ball in, Sturridge (presumably) called for Iago Aspas to leave it and as he did so, drawing Ron Vlaar out of position, Sturridge accelerated beyond Fabian Delph.

His first touch took him past Antonio Luna and, showing tremendous close control at pace, he took the ball round Brad Guzan and jabbed it in.

Both goals showed a capacity to find space and a genuinely rare striker's imagination. Sturridge finally looks the player he hinted he might be. We are left to regret the wasted years.

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