Disappointment will linger around Liverpool over Daniel Sturridge exit
Daniel Sturridge never fulfilled his potential at Liverpool. The 28-year-old has gone on loan to West Bromwich Albion in an attempt to get playing time and force himself back into the England reckoning in the run-up to the World Cup. At Anfield, there are only regrets about what might have been.
More than any other player, Sturridge is a symbol of Fenway Sports Group's attempt to revamp the club, and the dysfunction that process caused. For the first two years of the investment company's ownership, the Americans were more concerned with damage control. They inherited Roy Hodgson and were forced to replace him with Kenny Dalglish. In the summer of 2012, FSG were ready to make a statement. They sacked Dalglish (after winning the League Cup) and hired a young, thrusting manager in Brendan Rodgers; from there, they looked around to find a superstar to lead the team into the new age.
The transfer policy was simple: Sign young, talented and undervalued players who could develop into dominant figures in the Premier League. At £12 million, Sturridge fit the bill. He was likely to grow in value, too: if the striker didn't turn into the team's flag-bearer, FSG expected his price to rise and create a sell-on bonus at the very least.
There was only one problem: Rodgers did not want him. The forward's Anfield career got off to a false start and undermined the relationship between owners and manager. The situation became emblematic of Liverpool's issues in the transfer market.
In that summer, six years ago, the club's recruiters were convinced that Sturridge was a player who could assume iconic status in front of the Kop. The 21-year-old was surplus to requirements at Chelsea and a deal was arranged to bring Sturridge to Anfield, but Rodgers pulled the plug on the transfer at the last moment, after shipping out Andy Carroll on loan to West Ham United. The manoeuvre was conducted without FSG's knowledge and caused fury internally.
Liverpool were not only left short of firepower, but the trust between manager and owners was seriously undermined. Rodgers questioned the player's attitude and injury record, but FSG made it clear who was in charge and Sturridge arrived on Merseyside as soon as the January window opened.
Both sides had a point. The owners saw a goalscorer of sublime ability. Sturridge is lightning quick, has a superb touch and his movement discomforts defenders. From Rodgers' perspective, he was being burdened with a player who would spend too much time on the treatment table, one he could not rely on to anchor the side.
Injuries blighted Sturridge's time at Anfield. The striker has been forthright about his issues. He believes that he is genetically predisposed to muscle injuries due to having an abundance of fast-twitch fibre; he attributes this to his West Indian heritage, referring to "Caribbean vibes" as the root of his problems. The club went to great lengths to get Sturridge on the pitch, sending him to specialists in the United States but when Jurgen Klopp replaced Rodgers three years ago, it quickly became clear that the new manager had as much faith in the striker as his predecessor.
During the Rodgers era, FSG's belief in Sturridge was so strong that he was made Liverpool's highest-paid player despite prolonged layoffs, which had a knock-on effect in the dressing-room. Sturridge's wages were the backdrop to the acrimonious departure of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City and Sterling wasn't the only one who wondered why he was paid considerably less than someone who spent most of his time on the sidelines.
There was a clear sense of favouritism around Anfield, but the mood changed under Klopp; he has little time for players who he thinks cannot be relied upon. The loan to West Brom, at a time that Liverpool are once again short of firepower, is a clear indication that the player has no future at the club.
Yet Sturridge still has the ability to make a huge impact. He needs his body and mind to be in sync to perform at his highest level but when motivated and fit, the striker would improve any team in the Premier League and given those terms, Alan Pardew and West Brom have pulled off a coup against considerable opposition. Rafa Benitez was eager to bring the Liverpool man to Newcastle United as goals make all the difference in the relegation battle. Many of the teams in the bottom half of the table are struggling to score. If Sturridge is able to get out on the pitch, he can fire Pardew's side to safety.
He wants to play, too. The prospect of missing out on the World Cup has focused Sturridge's mind. This is a player with a point to prove.
The England striker's best campaign on Merseyside came in 2013-14, when Liverpool challenged for the title until the last week of the season. Sturridge started 29 league matches and scored 21 goals. He was driven on by a personal rivalry with Luis Suarez. If he can harness that sort of competitive instinct at the Hawthorns, Sturridge could easily shoot himself into the World Cup squad.
It is unlikely there is any way back at Liverpool. The best FSG can hope for is that Sturridge is successful enough to command a reasonable fee during the summer and at least justify the "buy low, sell high" philosophy that has underpinned their transfer policy.
The poster boy for Liverpool's new era has gone and the success that Sturridge was supposed to herald never arrived. Disappointment will linger around the Anfield boardroom for some time.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.