Last year, the ex-Liverpool ace called out GOAL for questioning his future in the game but, after his struggles in Australia, he may regret returning
In just over a year and a half of Football’s Forgotten Men, only one article has elicited a direct response from the subject in question – Daniel Sturridge.
On the morning of the 2021 Champions League final – which featured two of the striker’s former teams, Chelsea and Manchester City – GOAL published a piece wondering whether the two-time winner of the big-eared European trophy would ever return to the professional game.
It was certainly a fair question.
At that point, it had been more than a year since Sturridge had played a game of professional football and seemed to be living his best life in the United States, hitting the gym and hanging out with Oscar-winning actors.
However, the ex-England international was adamant that he would come back.
And he did.
But, on the morning of the 2022 Champions League final – again featuring another of Sturridge’s former clubs, Liverpool – the question now is: was it a successful return? And the answer is: regrettably, no.
Sturridge’s enthusiasm for returning to football had been clear, as he posted videos of him training alone on social media, anticipating a return for 2021-22.
There was talk of a move to Spain, with Liga side Real Mallorca announcing he would train with the club.
However, it was not until October that Sturridge signed permanently with a club, his winding career path taking him to Australia as he moved to the A-League side Perth Glory.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to try a new challenge,” Sturridge told the club’s website.
“When the opportunity came about, it felt like the right thing to do, to take my talent somewhere where I can enjoy my football in a competitive league and try and help the team be as successful as they possibly can be.”
The deal was seen as a massive coup for Australian domestic football.
Indeed, Perth chairman Tony Sage said: “Daniel is undoubtedly one of the biggest signings not only in Glory’s history, but in the history of the A-League.
“His arrival signals in no uncertain terms how determined we are to bring sustained success to the club and the lengths we will go to in order to achieve that goal.”
Six appearances, no goals, 138 total minutes on the pitch and a serious groin injury were not what Sage had in mind – but that is what the ambitious A-League outfit got from their star signing.
Sturridge did not play more than 45 minutes in a single match, while his only assist arrived in the penultimate game of the season, against Western Sydney.
Glory were anything but in the season just finished, coming rock bottom of the 12-team league for the first time ever, with just four wins and 18 points from 26 matches.
Unsurprisingly, the club’s view of the Sturridge signing had shifted markedly before the campaign had even concluded.
“It has been disappointing. We had high hopes when we signed Daniel. But it hasn’t worked, “chief executive Tony Pignata said in April.
“From a marketing point of view, the first game, we had 18,000 fans at the stadium on the back of him arriving and the hype. Then, unfortunately, he got injured …
“Next year? Look, I doubt that we’ll offer him another contract.”
Sturridge is hardly solely responsible for Glory’s nightmare season – Covid-19 restrictions, injuries, financial worries and managerial upheaval combined to create a perfect storm of failure, including a 16-game winless run over two months, which Sturridge missed in its entirety due to his groin problem.
However, he has been symbolic of the struggles and mismanagement which have plagued Perth. All too often, great money and fanfare has been placed on a big name without a coherent support or planning in place.
Getty / GOAL
Covid played havoc with Sturridge’s season: he had to isolate upon arrival after testing positive for the virus, and was forced into quarantine two more times in his first three months in Australia.
This proved a major setback for a player that was attempting a comeback after a year-long lay-off – particularly one who had always endured so many problems staying match fit during his career anyway.
The net result was that Glory’s fans grew restless amid speculation that their high-profile acquisition was not fully committed to the cause.
In late November, for example, Pignata had to release a statement denying that Sturridge was choosing not to play after Sage had claimed that the attacker had withdrawn from a game against Western United due to the after-affects of the four-hour flight to Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Perth manager Richard Garcia suggested that Sturridge’s groin issue, which was inflicted during a 1-0 defeat to Macarthur, was caused by poor preparation on the player’s part.
“I keep trying to bring him back and he keeps breaking down,” Garcia said. “We had him in at half-time, and then he did it so quickly that maybe he did not have enough time to warm up.”
Active on social media, Sturridge often tweeted his excitement about playing and being in Australia in his first few months, but has not mentioned Glory since February 20instead focusing his attention on Liverpool’s battle for the Premier League title.
Sturridge’s Australian misadventure will be coming to an end this summer, at which point he will be a nearly 33-year-old free agent – a far cry from being in the Liverpool squad the last time they won the Champions League, against Tottenham in 2019.
So, as we did a year ago, we have to ask: will two-time Champions League winner Sturridge ever return to football? The answer is unclear, once again.