Chelsea’s recent acquisition of exciting Manchester City forward Daniel Sturridge was buried under screeds of newsprint devoted to the madness of Real Madrid and Man City’s summer spending, but the Blues of a darker shade may well have bagged themselves a future Premier League and England star. Sturridge comes from a family of professional footballers of decent pedigree, whose careers saw them ply their trade at clubs such as Derby County and Birmingham City. Uncle Dean Sturridge, well known both to all Rams supporters and Premier League fans of a certain age, will no doubt be passing on vital top flight experience to his talented young nephew. His father Michael may also have some input, having played for Birmingham City under managers such as Sir Alf Ramsay and Jim Smith.
Sturridge’s talents were spotted at an early age as Aston Villa took him onboard when he was just eight-years-old, as the Midlands club hoped to nurture the genuine talent Sturridge clearly had, and reap the benefit when he reached playing age. Yet four years at Villa came to an abrupt end when he chose to make the short journey over to Coventry, where the Sky Blues had offered him a place on their books. However, his time at the Sky Blues was short-lived and 13-year-old Sturridge was once again on the move as Man City pouched the youngster, offering him a place in their highly-rated academy. The Citizens were ordered to pay Coventry £30 000 for Sturridge, with further payments of a reported £200 000 based on future appearances and success, demonstrating just how highly they rated the starlet’s potential.
Man City’s belief in their new prospect was quickly justified as Sturridge bagged the Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot awards at the Nike Cup, widely regarded as the world’s premier Under-15 football tournament. By this point City knew they had a gem and when Sturridge stepped up into the youth team, his talent shone through week in week out. At just 16, and the side’s youngest player, he scored six goals to help City claim the runners-up spot in the coveted FA Youth Cup, contributing a brace in the 3-2 final defeat. Sturridge’s displays during City’s excellent run had turned the heads of some of England’s big name outfits, but the Manchester side were quick to tie the youngster down by offering him his first professional contract.
His goals and performances for the youth side had also alerted the Eastlands’ senior coaching staff and Sturridge began training with the first team squad at the tender age of 17. Sparkling displays for the reserves, including a hat-trick, earned their fizzing prospect a senior debut. A late cameo against Reading in February 2007 was followed shortly afterwards by another late substitute role, but an unfortunate hip injury put paid to further opportunities as Sturridge was out of action for the remainder of the year. Nevertheless, he fought back to full fitness after 11 months on the sidelines and returned to the fray as a substitute in the FA Cup tie at Sheffield United in January 2008. It was to be a special day for young Sturridge as he grabbed his first goal at senior level with a superb control and volley from 16 yards, the ball clipping the underside of the bar as it found its way in. It was a show of great technique and quick thinking, a memorable way to open his account at first team level.
Just three days later, Sturridge bagged his first league goal with a late equaliser at Derby, tapping in at the back post. It was to be his only league goal of the campaign as he was used sparingly by then manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and soon found himself back in the youth side. The Citizens again reached the final of the FA Youth Cup with Sturridge the competition’s leading marksman and he duly notched in the final to help his side to a 4-2 win, ironically over Chelsea. With a change of manager at the start of the 2008/09 campaign, Sturridge hoped for a more productive season at Eastlands as he felt he’d shown enough to warrant more first team minutes. However, a mere 10 starts for City and a further 16 as a substitute frustrated the teenager, persuading him to turn down a new deal at Eastlands in favour of a move to West London. City had tried to retain their precocious young talent by tabling a bumper new contract but by that time the player had already set his sights on Roman’s Empire and Stamford Bridge. As Sturridge is under 24, a compensation package has to be agreed between the two clubs, but with City valuing their former trainee at £10million and Chelsea at just £3million, a decision on the fee to be paid will be decided by a tribunal in the near future.
In the few Premier League games he was given the chance in, Sturridge had shown glimpses of his superb ability. The home game against strugglers Stoke offered up an example of his quality after he came on for the injured Ched Evans in the 42nd minute. The former Coventry youngster helped big money recruit Robinho grab the headlines by setting up the £32.5M Brazilian for the two second half goals which sealed his hat-trick. Despite the trio of goals from the ‘Little Robin’ it was Sturridge’s second half showing that had turned the game, when he sprinted down the right side, cut inside two defenders and threaded a superb reverse pass in for Robinho to tap in. Robinho’s acknowledgement of his young team mate said it all as he rushed over to Sturridge, before kneeling at his feet to kiss his boots. The former Real Madrid man had Sturridge to thank for this third goal too, as he was on hand to stroke home following another pin-point assist.
Another substitute role, this time at Blackburn saw Sturridge again impress. Trailing 1-0 at Ewood Park, Sturridge replaced Felipe Caicedo on 71 minutes as Mark Hughes’ men pressed for an equaliser. With five minutes left City fell further behind only for Sturridge to inspire his side to a dramatic draw. First, a brilliantly executed left foot volley from the youngster brought the Citizens back into the game before he turned provider with an excellent weaving run past two Blackburn defenders before picking out Robinho on the far side with a brilliant ball for the Sao Paulo-born striker to slide home. It was a 20 minute cameo that showed a slice of everything the City youngster has to offer. His goal displayed outstanding technique as he took down a looping ball, killing it before dispatching it confidently with a low, controlled shot into the net. His assist for Robinho proved his excellent dribbling skills and the rarer ability to provide a superb end product as he first saw Robinho in space and then picked him out with a perfectly weighted pass.
Sturridge mustered just 1042 minutes on-pitch during a testing season, three more goals in addition to the strike at Ewood Park taking his tally last term to four. He netted the third goal against Arsenal in a 3-0 win, when he confidently and coolly slotted in a penalty he had won for himself, and a fine strike in the home win over West Ham was yet another important goal. But the lack of playing time proved too much for this ambitious teen and when Chelsea offered him a lucrative four-year deal in early July – he was off. Last week saw him score on his debut in the pre-season win over Seattle Sounders, as he aims to show his new boss, Carlo Ancelotti, exactly what he is capable off.
Sturridge’s versatility is a quality that will be valued at Stamford Bridge. His position at Chelsea over the forthcoming season is likely be mainly on the left of an attacking three, if and when he does claim a spot in the starting line up. His directness, pace and vision will serve him well on the flanks, although his natural gravity is towards a central striking role in a paired attack. He perhaps lacks the strength and presence to usurp Did