There's a myth about me being arrogant... but I'm just a happy guy
Daniel Sturridge's relationship with the World Cup extends beyond sharing a stage with the trophy here in London on Thursday. His father Michael was signed by Sir Alf Ramsey as a schoolboy at Birmingham City, and it was at much the same age that his son’s journey began.
It was 2006 and Uncle Carl, the youngest of his father’s five brothers, had an idea to travel to Switzerland to watch Brazil prepare for that summer’s tournament in Germany. The plan was to go there for a couple of days.
But a 15-year-old Daniel was so enthralled by the opportunity to join thousands of Brazilians in watching the open training sessions that he phoned home and begged his parents to let him stay longer. In the end he stayed a fortnight and managed to secure a photograph with Ronaldo and Cafu. ‘I just loved watching Ronaldo play and train,’ he says. ‘I loved to study his movement and technique. If I met him now I would still be in awe of him.’
Lots of modern players claim to be students of the game but Sturridge knows his stuff. He watches videos of Diego Maradona and Thierry Henry, Ronaldo and Alan Shearer — anyone he feels he can learn from in improving the skills that enable him to score his goals in a variety of different ways.
He likens his partnership with Luis Suarez at Liverpool to some from years ago. He talks of ‘Shearer and Sutton’ as well as ‘Yorke and Cole’ and ‘Bergkamp and Henry’. He says: ‘I love watching the footage they run of old Premier League seasons. I can sit and watch for hours. Yorke and Cole were innovators in the way they played together. That season in ’99. Brilliant.’
He recognises the fact that partnerships of the kind he now enjoys with his Uruguayan colleague are something of a rarity with the development of more modern formations. ‘When it was all about 4-4-2 it was more common,’ he says. ‘But they can still thrive today, and I’d like to think I can develop a partnership with Wayne Rooney in the England side in the way I have with my mate Luis.’
He comes across as a perfectionist. ‘If I miss a pass in a match I will ask the coaches to recreate the moment in the next training session so I can avoid making the mistake again,’ he says. ‘Hard work is the key to all of this, and that is something I’ve learnt from Luis but also from my family.
‘I love my job. But I’ve always thought that you have to be dedicated. My dad’s brought me up to be dedicated. My parents I should say. They made a lot of sacrifices, moving to Manchester with me when I was 13 and showing a lot of belief. So I had to repay them.
‘I’ve had to make sacrifices. At 15, 16 I didn’t used to go out. I used to make sure I was at home, watching Spanish league football at weekends, Match of the Day. That was my weekend, that was what was fun to me. But I also didn’t want to let my parents down and waste maybe five years of their lives.’
He does sound like the perfect professional. Something of a dream for a manager like Brendan Rodgers. He is a devout Christian, has no interest in alcohol — ‘I just don’t like it’ — and no desire to party too often. ‘I like producing music,’ he says.
‘And the theatre. I like going to the theatre. I was decent at school and if I hadn’t been a footballer I would have been an actor.’ The new Vinnie Jones perhaps? ‘No,’ he says laughing. ‘Not Vinnie.’
The silver screen can wait. Now he’s at Liverpool, in one of the most exciting sides in the Barclays Premier League, the football is his only focus, the 32 goals he has scored in 40 appearances for his club underlining his ability.
It is the kind of ability that must make Manchester City and Chelsea wince, given that they both lost him.
Sturridge may never be a Kop idol like Suarez or Gerrard - he's destined to be brilliant but unloved at Liverpool, like Owen
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In the past some have suggested his failure to settle at those clubs was partly down to him. A lack of patience, or a degree of arrogance. Maybe even a bit of surliness.
This, however, is not the young man sitting before me here. He could not be more charming, humble and respectful.
He could not be more modest about the medals he has won — a Premier League, a Champions League and two FA Cup winners’ medals sit with the medals he won in the Aston Villa Under 9 side.
But why has it taken this long, until Liverpool, to firmly establish himself. ‘With City it wasn’t a case of the club doing anything wrong,’ he says. ‘They had a lot of money at the time and were buying a lot of strikers and for a young player of 18, it would have been a bit silly for me to stay with the strikers they bought. They had Felipe Caicedo, Jo, Craig Bellamy, they signed about six or seven strikers.
‘I just didn’t feel like I would get an opportunity there, because I knew it would only get worse, because they had more money. So I thought the best place to go, with the things Chelsea said to me, was London.
‘I thought I’ll learn from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, two world-class footballers. I knew I wasn’t going to start straight away. I knew I had to wait my turn.
STURRIDGE BY NUMBERS
23 - Goals scored by Daniel Sturridge this season for Liverpool and England.
32 - Sturridge has scored 32 goals in just 40 appearances since joining Liverpool from Chelsea in the January transfer window in 2013.
0.89 - The forward’s goals-per-game ratio for Liverpool this season — the same as his strike partner Luis Suarez.
8 - Games in a row Sturridge scored in between November and February, equalling a club record.
18 - Sturridge is the Barclays Premier League’s top-scoring Englishman with 18 goals so far this season.
3 - Sturridge scored in his first three Liverpool games. No player had done that since Ray Kennedy moved to Anfield from Arsenal in 1974.
‘I’m thankful to Chelsea and City. I’ll always love the staff at City, the academy staff especially. They changed my family’s life, moving us when I moved to City.
‘It was all part of my journey. But it’s fair to say that Chelsea didn’t fully believe in me. I’m not saying I have to feel loved, I don’t have to feel loved, I just have to know that the manager believes in me and he’s giving me an opportunity on the field. I didn’t start a single game as a centre forward at Chelsea in the league, so it was very difficult.’
Is he arrogant? ‘No!’ he says. ‘This is the thing, I don’t know what the aura is. People get me so wrong. I don’t know if it’s a myth or what it is. I’m a normal guy. I’m very approachable. Anyone who knows me, I’ll talk to anyone. I have no issues with anybody.
‘I just feel as if there’s a myth about me being arrogant or not wanting to speak to people. I think that (my expression) is just the way I am, sometimes I’m not smiling all the time but I am a happy guy. I’m smiling on the inside and it looks as though I’m not smiling, but I am.
‘It hurts me a bit, that people have an opinion when they’ve never met me and I’m glad we have met, so it changes your opinion hopefully.’
Is Rodgers the difference in his life? ‘Of course,’ he says. ‘It was the same when Owen Coyle took me on loan for Bolton. I had the belief from him and I just wanted to do as best as I could for him.
‘It’s the same with the gaffer now. He’s put belief in me, he’s a world-class manager, he’s unbelievable. Tactically unbelievable. Your mentality changes without knowing it, and the more and more you work with him the more and more it just happens naturally.’
Rodgers suggested that Sturridge should work with Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychiatrist now assisting Roy Hodgson with England.
‘He’s a great man,’ says Sturridge. ‘I enjoy talking to him. The gaffer said to me I should see him, to be at peace with myself after some of the stuff I’d been through. When I arrived at Liverpool my confidence was low. Now I’ll even speak to Steve on the phone or on Skype.’
Sturridge doesn’t sound remotely over-confident. ‘I have self-belief and I guess some people might not like that,’ he says. ‘But I’ve worked so hard and I also know there’s a long way to go, I know there’s a lot for me to do, but I’m prepared to do the work. Like I say, I’m not arrogant or cocky.’
It’s why he is reluctant to say too much about Sunday’s encounter with Manchester United. His mantra is the mantra of his manager, and of Suarez too. He talks about continuing to ‘work hard’, about following ‘the gaffer’s instructions’.
The World Cup, Sturridge says, can wait, and he is quick to point out he has to be selected by Hodgson first. At the right moment he will try to ‘get in Luis’s head’ ahead of the England-Uruguay clash. Before then, they have business together. As a partnership he hopes they can emulate the greats of the past.
As ambassador for the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, Daniel Sturridge is encouraging Great Britain to celebrate the FIFA World Cup™ and be healthier and happier by moving more, more often.
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