“Welbeck or Sturridge: Who would you take?” popped up as a friend’s Facebook status 10 or so games into the 2010/11 Premier League season and created some healthy debate should we say. Two young, exciting unorthodox English forwards fresh from successful loan spells at Premier League outfits arrived back at two of the biggest clubs in the country and played with a fearlessness and a swagger that suggested both could be lighting up the domestic and international stages for years to come.
By May this year Welbeck had narrowly missed out on a Premier League winners medal, and in the summer was one of the few plusses for England in an otherwise forgetable Euro 2012 campaign. Meanwhile Sturridge was part of a Champions League-winning squad and made history playing for Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics even if it did end with the forward missing that crucial penalty against South Korea in the quarter finals.
Fast forward to Chelsea and Manchester United meeting in the league earlier this season and both were sat on the bench, watching the dramatic events of a game that finished with five goals, two red cards and one serious allegation aimed at the man in black. Sturridge was denied involvement when lone striker Fernando Torres was given his marching orders, while Welbeck stayed with his track suit zipped up as his teammates saw out the game against nine man Chelsea.
For a striker the calibre of Van Persie to walk into any other club, a player like Welbeck would probably wonder when his next game is going to come from. Ferguson has however always backed the local lad and the player signed a four-year contract in August to cement his future with his boyhood club. Things couldn’t be more different for Sturridge. Three seasons into his contract at Stamford Bridge and the 23-year old is looking for a way out of Stamford Bridge having seen his appearances in the first team diminish in the past year.
So where has it all gone wrong for a player who netted 11 Premier League goals last season? Sturridge is not the first young English player to want out at a club who have the resources to buy pretty much any player that the owner feels is worthy of his billions. Scott Parker, Steven Sidwell and Scott Sinclair have all had to cut their dream moves short and Sturridge looks set to swap Stamford Bridge for Anfield when the January transfer window opens. If he makes the move to Liverpool, questions will be asked why the club has decided to cash in on a player who has undoubted talent and arguably has his best footballing years ahead of him.
People will instantly point to the ‘Torres’ factor and the owner who funded one of the biggest transfers in history wanting a return on his investment. As a series of managers have failed to get the Spaniard firing, Sturridge was being denied the chance to play in the more central role he craved despite the lack of form of Torres. The majority of his playing time has been spent playing as a wide, right-sided winger hugging the touch-line and unsettling full backs with his direct playing style and while some might be critical of his misfiring in front of goal he always provided a threat and showed a willingness to do his share of defensive work.
Conflicting managerial philosophies may have played its part in the stop start nature of his time at Chelsea. Present in the first team squad for the first half of Carlo Ancelotti’s trophy-less 2010/11 season in charge Sturridge was loaned out to Bolton in January and granted his wish to play more centrally for Owen Coyle’s side. That’s not to say that he didn’t escape some criticism from the Italian manager before he was ousted from the post. During Andre Villas-Boas short stint as Chelsea coach, the current Spurs boss also opted to employ Sturridge out wide batting down the player’s wish to play more centrally.
With Di Matteo at the helm, extra industry was preferred to more craft in midfield and Sturridge appeared to be one of the players who suffered from the change in style. As Di Matteo opted for a more expansive football philosophy in the earlier stages of this season, he rewarded the flexible footballing abilities that Mata, Oscar, and Hazard offered the Chelsea team to become a more open, attacking and ultimately more attractive side to watch. As Rafa Benitez sits in as interim manager the emergence of Victor Moses has pushed Sturridge further down the pecking order. Both have very similar playing styles with the emphasis on directness and an eagerness to take on players and in truth there is very little between the two, however Moses’ workrate and influence in other areas of the pitch appears to have made a bigger impression on Benitez.
(Daniel Sturridge’s contribution vs Newcastle United in 2011 & Victor Moses contribution vs Swansea City in 2012)
Maybe the real issue here with Sturridge’s failings at Chelsea has nothing to do with his ability. Some have in the past claimed that the player has a selfish attitude, but this could also be as a result of the football environment that Sturridge now finds himself in. This is a player who ran down his contract at a club swept up by wealthy Middle Eastern owners willing to spend millions where the investment in players like Sturridge, Richards and Johnson amongst others had been replaced with talk of investing in the likes of Kaka and Robinho. Swapping that club for another with an owner who gives managers little time to prove their credentials including the man who was convinced by your talents in hindsight seems like a bad error in judgement.
If Sturridge does make a reported move to Liverpool, in Brendan Rodgers he might just have a manager that will have the time on his side and the appreciation of his talents as a footballer to get his career back on track. The Chelsea player need only look at the fast tracking of players like Raheem Sterling and Suso into the first team to see what the Liverpool boss values in his attacking players. Rodgers was rumoured to be interested in taking Sturridge on loan from Chelsea when he was Swansea manager and his short, sharp direct football style should fit in with Rodgers’ possession driven football philosophy. It’s evident for all to see that Luis Suarez just a year older than Sturridge is in need of a supporting cast up front, and if the Chelsea forward completes his move there’s no doubt he will be moving to be the centre of attention at Anfield and not simply back up to the talented Uruguayan.