Di Matteo missing a trick leaving Sturridge on the sidelines
“My main motivation for coming here is to play in the Champions League,” said a 19-year-old Daniel Sturridge upon signing for Chelsea from Manchester City; the fee of £3.5m, as well as a complicated set of tiered payments, being decided by a tribunal for a player who was then one of England’s finest young prospects.
It is ironic, then, that at the end of last season Sturridge missed the greatest European nights in Chelsea’s history – both legs of their famous victory over Barcelona and then the final against Bayern Munich – looking on as an unused substitute for all three matches.
Regularly farmed out to wide positions last season – the only term he has been allowed to contribute consistently since arriving in 2009 – it is a shame that the man from the Midlands has been utilised so infrequently in his preferred position as a central striker. So often the victim of the politics that appear to be endemic at Stamford Bridge, he has had to play second fiddle to both an ageing but still devastatingly effective Didier Drogba and a misfiring-yet-impossible-to-drop Fernando Torres, generally finding himself in the wide berth of a 4-3-3 formation – and that’s if he starts at all.
Despite initially professing to be happy to play with chalk on his boots – stating a desire to emulate his hero Thierry Henry, who also started his Premier League career in that slot – it appears that his patience is finally wearing thin. Rumours of a desire to leave Chelsea have surfaced in recent weeks owing to the complete absence of appearances in the first XI this season, this despite the departure of both Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba, and Romelu Lukaku’s loan move to West Brom.
It is perplexing that Sturridge has played such a small part in Chelsea’s season so far, for he is a fine player when on song. Able to go past a man and show good strength, he is also a good finisher and deserves to have played more than a cameo role, despite Chelsea’s impressive start. His ability was highlighted this summer for Great Britain during the Olympics, when he came on at half-time to replace Marvin Sordell in the vanguard of the attack to score a goal of sublime quality against an impressively technical UAE side. The way he lifted the ball over the goalkeeper’s head with such dexterity made him look every inch the player who would graduate into a central role for Chelsea after having put in the hard graft on the flanks.
But so far the move has not materialised. It may be because he occasionally makes the wrong decision when presented with a variety of attacking options, or because of a perceived selfishness (a trait that is necessary in a striker), but the reality is that these things will all improve over time and with experience.
It is frustrating because it appears clear that, given the chance, he can offer the sort of goal return that’s needed at the top level. Despite playing out wide last season, he contributed 13 goals — including four in his first four league games.
As the disappointment of not playing any part in European glory was added to his absence from the FA Cup final (he was again an unused substitute), his case of itchy feet is entirely understandable. But, having missed out on a move when the window was open despite repeatedly being linked with Liverpool, Sturridge will have to remain in west London for the next few months at least.
Should he not get the chances he craves between now and the turn of the year, several Premier League clubs will rightly be on alert in January. Aged just 23, and with all the attributes needed to succeed at the top level, it will be exciting to see just how many goals Sturridge can deliver when given a full season to ply his trade in the position he so desperately craves.
The only question that remains is how good he can really be. I suspect the answer to that is ‘very good indeed’.
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