Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge hurt by 'disrespectful' injury rumours
Daniel Sturridge has spoken of his devastation at the "disrespect" shown to him over rumours he did not want to play for Liverpool during his injury layoff -- and said he has "no stresses" now he is back in action.
It has been suggested in recent months, both in the press and on social media, that the England striker wants to leave Anfield, while others have implied that he lacks the hunger or toughness needed to push through the pain barrier -- a claim Sturridge said on Wednesday was "the biggest disrespect you could pay a footballer."
He did admit, however, that the criticism and innuendo -- about his motivation and even suggestions that his religious beliefs were preventing him playing -- had hurt him.
"To say a player doesn't want to play, that's the biggest disrespect you could pay a footballer," he said. "It's astonishing and disappointing, whoever's saying it -- it's football and people are entitled to their opinions, but I don't think anyone will understand how much it means to me to play football.
"I don't listen to social media, so I'm not aware, to be honest. I didn't know religion had anything to do with football.
"I'll focus on what I do best, playing for Liverpool FC."
Since making his belated comeback this month the 26-year-old has scored in the 6-0 win at Aston Villa on Feb. 14 and shown flashes of the quality that Liverpool struggled without in the first four months of manager Jurgen Klopp's time in charge.
And as he contemplated Thursday's Europa League round-of-32 second leg with Augsburg and Sunday's League Cup final, Sturridge insisted he was over his problems and was always happy at the club.
"It's important to worry about the present," he told a news conference. "Of course it's been a difficult time being injured but it's part of football and now I'm looking forward to the future with Liverpool.
"There's not too much to worry about or stress about and I've been relaxed the whole time I've been here. I've always had family and friends around me. It's about football at the end of the day, nothing more, nothing less."
But Sturridge added that his time on the sidelines has been anything but enjoyable.
"You know in life there are times where you have good periods and difficult periods, in every walk of life," Sturridge said.
"People go through difficult times and it's how you come through those situations. A lot of people talk, I don't listen, I worry about how my family feel. I'm blessed by God, I have zero stresses. I've come a long way from Birmingham and my Jamaican roots -- I'm blessed.
"I'm very ambitious, very determined to help Liverpool have some success, I'm totally focused. Of course I want to be on the pitch playing every game, like every player, and of course it hurts not to be playing -- I'd be lying if I didn't say that.
"I'm not someone who likes living life to full when I'm not playing, chilling, going out with friends and enjoying life. I'm at home, not happy, not enjoying life, stressed. I'm devastated.
"Of course I've heard the things, second-hand, that people have said about me. All I want to do is have success, nothing else matters."
Klopp said he was pleased to see the forward defend himself in person.
"It was interesting to hear what you asked," the manager told reporters. "He was completely relaxed.
"I think a few things are more clear now than before, and that's what we need. I heard from him -- not second or third-hand -- a lot of times, about his future at LFC.
"Everything is fine, and you can now stop thinking about this."
Tom is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @writertombell.