Daniel Sturridge should leave Liverpool if he hopes to play in the World Cup
Daniel Sturridge should be one of England's best strikers. The Liverpool forward is a proven, dangerous goalscorer, but this month the 28-year-old could not get into Gareth Southgate's England squad even though it was shorn of a significant number of first-choice players. It was a tipping point. Sturridge needs to leave Anfield if he has any hopes of playing in next summer's World Cup.
The striker should be at the peak of his career. He is quick, with the sort of pace that stretches defences. His finishing is clinical. On form, his movement confounds opposition markers.
But injuries have played a huge part in the breakdown of belief between the player and his various managers over the course of his career. At Chelsea a succession of bosses -- four in Sturridge's four years at the club -- recognized his ability but felt he spent too much time on the treatment table and was unduly selfish. There was a strong suspicion by some that the type of niggles that kept the striker out of games were the sort of knocks other team members played through.
Brendan Rodgers did not want Sturridge at Anfield. Initially, the deal was planned to go though in the summer transfer window of 2012. Rodgers scuppered the move at the last moment, much to the chagrin of the club's hierarchy. Fenway Sports Group, the owners, would not be denied. Sturridge joined the club the next January and Rodgers had to accede to his employers' wishes.
Ironically, it was under Rodgers that Sturridge had the best spell of his career. His finest football came in the 2013-14 season when Liverpool put together a title challenge that only faded in the final week of the campaign. Playing alongside Luis Suarez, he scored 21 Premier League goals in 29 appearances.
Klopp, Rodgers' successor, was excited to inherit such an obvious talent, but soon became frustrated by the forward's frequent absences. There is little sympathy for injured players at the best of times in top-class football and when there are no obvious signs of damage the whispers start. Some have speculated about Sturridge's desire. Many clubs have players that their teammates believe cry off too easily. Once a reputation like this becomes attached to someone it is hard to shake.
Sturridge attributes what he calls "Caribbean vibes" for causing his physical state, believing that his West Indian heritage is responsible for the abundance of fast twitch muscle that gives him his blinding speed.
The downside is that the muscle tears easily, sidelining him too often for everyone's liking.
Two things are clear. To get the best out of Sturridge his mind and body have to be aligned. The other reality is that, at least on one occasion during the Rodgers' era, Liverpool underplayed the seriousness of Sturridge's injury, suggesting to the player that he was in better condition than he actually was in an attempt to get their star out on the pitch. When the hierarchy realised the seriousness of the problem, they acted to rectify the issue and sent the player to the U.S. for treatment, while senior club figures were aghast at the misdiagnosis.
Sturridge has fallen far down Klopp's pecking order. Eight of his 12 appearances in the Premier League and Champions League this season have come off the bench even though he is fit. Southgate has made it clear that players who cannot get into their club side are unlikely to get a call-up to the England squad. This means Sturridge is at a crossroads in his career. If he wants to go to Russia, he needs to leave Liverpool. And there is no foreseeable chance of his breaking into Klopp's team with any regularity.
At the same time, Sturridge has to lower his expectations. A year ago there was talk of a loan move to Paris Saint-Germain. A likelier destination is a struggling Premier League side that needs goals in the battle against relegation. West Ham United have admired the striker for a long time. Liverpool will not sell cheaply, though. A loan deal is possible but less likely.
It could be the right time for a change of scenery. Those who doubt the player's commitment to the game are misguided. When fit and motivated, Sturridge is a huge asset.
During his best season, his urge to outdo Suarez, with whom he did not have the best relationship, inspired Sturridge. There were fewer injuries during that period and the striker was desperate to get out on the pitch and score goals. Now, he is extremely eager to go to Russia and prove a point to a number of managers.
Whatever happens, it is likely that Sturridge's time at Liverpool will be considered a disappointment. Yet he still has much to offer. It would be no shock if a healthy and rejuvenated Sturridge bounces back and proves the doubters wrong. But it would be a surprise if it happened at Anfield.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.