Aaron Cutler laments the latest injury to Daniel Sturridge and ponders a future without the Liverpool striker – is the next six months make or break for the 26-year-old?
Groundhog day. Another month, another injury setback for Daniel Sturridge. As news filtered through on this the latest ailment to rock Liverpool’s star striker a collective shrug of the shoulders ensued.
Anger gave way to resignation long ago. These days the very mention of the forward’s name has Kopites assuming the worst. Sadly those fears are nearly always realised.
Indeed the sight of Sturridge in anything but a club suit is now so rare the club are rumoured to be preparing memorabilia to mark such occasions. Why not purchase his 25 minute cameo against Swansea on DVD, also available as a collector’s edition? It is a recurring travesty that may soon force our hand.
No athlete enjoys being sidelined. No player can magically repel muscle strains or guard against the general wear and tear of top flight football.
Though regularly cited the likes of Luis Suarez are the exception rather than the rule. The Uruguayan would play through pain barrier, meeting hurt with demonic contempt. But his make up is entirely different to that of Sturridge who is instead comparable to the feeble Ledley King.
Mentally and physically the one time SAS are polar opposites. As such while one swats all before him in a conquering Barcelona side, the other is left facing serious questions about his footballing career.
And despite claims to the contrary the next six months will determine whether Sturridge figures in Liverpool’s long-term thinking.
For too long the reds budgeted for his return, flitting from one formation to the next in the knowledge – or rather the hope – he’d be back soon. Only soon never materialised, at least not for a sustained period.
Papering over the cracks – making do until the missing piece returned – derailed last season and went someway towards costing Brendan Rodgers his job.
But this is a new dawn.
In stark contrast to his predecessor, Jurgen Klopp is pro-active and neither beholden to nor dependent on any one individual.
The German strolled into town with a self-assuredness garnered from years of tangible success. He will not cower from big decisions and may well call time on this a dejecting saga.
A shift in attitudes was first detected pre-Palace when Klopp conceded he had no idea as to just when his primary goal-getter would be restored to the side. “I think he will return soon. But soon is relative. I don’t know when he will be back.”
Not enough to inspire sensationalist headlines but a hint of frustration nonetheless.
This was ratcheted up some when a Bordeaux comeback was postponed for dubious reasons. “He needs to learn the difference between pain and real pain,” lamented the boss.
That last statement fired a shot across the bowels and drew a long-awaited line in the sand.
Klopp may appear jovial and light-hearted in press conferences but, make no mistake, every sound bite is delivered with purpose. This was a message to both player and club – a warning that his Liverpool will wait for nobody.
Consequently, keeping pace with the wider project may prove as challenging as a clean bill of health for a beleaguered Sturridge.
Whether his injuries are hereditary, the result of mental fragility or both, continued absence is marginalising him during a key period.
A seismic shift is underway at Liverpool Football Club and ‘D Studgey D’ is at risk of disappearing between the tectonic plates.
Klopp will be planning ahead, imagining life without a man laid-up for an incredible 53% of his Anfield career. That is good management yes but moreover common sense.
On accepting the position Klopp implored us all to turn from doubters to believers but even the preacher must question seven injuries in sixteen months. He’d be mad not to.
The False 9 that did for Chelsea and Manchester City proves there is life beyond Daniel. Those performances and the emphatic nature by which they were achieved left many pondering whether even a fully fit Sturridge could lead the line for a Klopp shaped Liverpool? Has he ever pressed with the intensity of a Coutinho, Lallana or Firmino?
Those same questions are being asked of Christian Benteke who is himself by no means a nailed-on replacement. The travails of both strikers make further recruitment a certainty – be it January or – most probably – next summer.
Which gives Sturridge around six months to prove his durability.
As we know his quality has never been in doubt, which makes this dilemma all the sadder. A quite remarkable return against Southampton showcased his sheer brilliance.
When fit only Sergio Aguero rivals our number 15 for quality of movement and an unerring finishing ability. His goal ratio betters that of any Liverpool striker in the Premier League era, some feat.
But in spite of this Klopp may consider taking a hit simply to rid Liverpool of the circus that now accompanies every bump or bruise.
Whereas before the England forward offered hope to teammates – his comeback something to aim towards – he is slowly becoming an unwitting yet negative sideshow.
An infectious character he is popular in and around Melwood but psychologically his eternal absence must have a damaging effect on team morale, perplexing those who view him as talismanic.
Players are not that dissimilar from us fans after all. They’ll be memorising upcoming fixtures, anticipating a Sturridge inspired ascent up the table. They may not partake in full blown twitter meltdowns every time a knock is sustained but they too will be cursing the one step up, two steps back feel to proceedings.
If the biggest of calls was made some question whether the reds could attract any kind of fee for Sturridge. Clearly, his true worth will now never be realised but if a club was to offer what we ourselves paid (£12m) the powers that be may sanction a deal, albeit with a heavy heart.
Joey Barton is living proof that a club will always take a punt, and a crock is better than a criminal.
Fenway Sports Group are known to admire the former Chelsea man – hence his bumper contract. Brendan Rodgers could never convince them to sell someone of Sturridge’s quality but Klopp?
His standing in the game affords him respect and trust, meaning he could wield far more power and present an alternative vision – minus the dossier.
The argument against such a move is Liverpool could never attract a player of the same calibre. This may have been true three months ago but in Klopp we have a manager with pulling power, the undisputed star of Liverpool in an era where many bemoan the lack of a playing poster boy. Do not underestimate his influence or appeal.
In an ideal world this latest hamstring strain will prove to be the striker’s final injury of the season, freeing him up for a clear run at the New Year. But in truth few of us believe that will transpire.
Instead – as with the two years before – there is a sense of inevitability about Daniel Sturridge and 2016. If that pessimism is born out a serious conversation must be had.
As good as Sturridge is Liverpool Football Club is far too big to be waiting around for him while trophies and Champions League football are to be attained. You can be loyal to a fault.
If this is indeed a crossroads it may be time to take a brave but necessary turn.