Two days before he becomes a front-runner for Goal of the Season, Daniel Sturridge speaks with what, in hindsight, feels like an eerie, knowing sense of the future.
“Whatever decisions the manager makes, he’s the boss,” says Liverpool’s No.15. “Whatever team he picks, you just give your best whether you come on for five minutes or start the game. It’s just about giving everything on the pitch whenever you get the minutes.”
It is probably more telling, however, to calculate Sturridge’s impact on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the Premier League in seconds.
Only 152 of them had elapsed after his introduction as a substitute at Stamford Bridge – and barely 90 remained in normal time for the Reds to rescue a point against his former club – when the 29-year-old struck.
Positioned around 25 yards from the opposition net when he controlled the ball, the striker’s belief that he could send it into the far top corner was fulfilled by his ability.
The goal was his 50th for Liverpool in the league. Watch some, or all, of those efforts again and you are quickly struck by the diversity of the collection but more so the overarching quality of a master of his craft.
Sturridge himself does not want to look back, though.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been here – through the highs and lows of playing, not playing, being successful and being unsuccessful,” he tells Liverpoolfc.com in a room overlooking the lush green turf of Anfield, a place he has called home for almost six years.
“The whole process of being at Liverpool, the journey, has been great. It’s just about now winning something; I don’t want to have been here for a long time and not have lifted one trophy.
“I can never look at the past and say, ‘I wish we’d won the league that year’. Obviously, it hurts. But it’s a new season now and we have a chance to do it again.
“We have a chance to win the Champions League again; we have a chance to win the FA Cup again. This season is just full of excitement because we know we have an opportunity – just as much as everyone else has an opportunity.
“I don’t want to put expectations out there that we might do this or that; I just want nature to take its course. I’m really positive about it, I have the belief. Everyone in the club has the belief, the fans have the belief, that we can do something this year.”
Of the current first-team squad, only Jordan Henderson has served the club longer than Sturridge. By the end of this season, his spell with the Reds will be the longest at any team in his career.
“Crazy,” he laughs. “I didn’t think I’d be here for such a long period of time, you never know what can happen in football. But this is home for me, it always has been.”
Sturridge joined Liverpool on January 2, 2013 and has since scored 67 goals in 140 appearances
Though Liverpool has become his adopted home, the chance to go home for real during the second half of last season was of huge personal value to the man from Birmingham.
Sturridge’s loan move to West Bromwich Albion allowed for extended time in the company of those closest to him, which the demands of a professional career spent largely in Manchester and London before Merseyside made rare.
“I feel it was something I had to do,” he explains. “I got to be around my family more than I ever have in my whole career. I went back home for the first time in probably more than 10 years and was in the city.
“It was a breath of fresh air. And I learned a lot as well from a football perspective. I enjoyed it so I don’t have any regrets about it.”
Not even to have missed out on a Champions League final?
“That’s the past now, that’s gone. It’s a new season – it’s a new Champions League and a new Premier League,” replies Sturridge.
“If you dwell in the past, you live in the past; you live with regret and live with things that mean nothing. I’d have been happy for the boys if we’d won and I was gutted that the boys lost the game.
“But I would never look back and wish I was on the bench or involved. No, you make decisions and I enjoyed myself when I was in Birmingham. I don’t live with regrets about football.
“It’s just about having that positive vibe and focusing on what I need to do. I’m more focused than I’ve ever been. I’m hungry and I’m ready for any opportunities I get and ready to go.
“I’m training with a smile on my face and playing with a smile on my face, I’m not worrying about anything and not thinking about anything. I’ve got an open mind.
“When I go out on the pitch it’s just about enjoyment. When I’m on the training pitch, enjoy myself. I’ve been like that for my whole career anyway. I’ve always enjoyed myself and had fun. At this stage now, that is my only concern: enjoying myself. That’s what football is all about if you strip it all back. Nothing else matters besides enjoyment. This is what I live for and what I love.
“I’ve always wanted to be a professional footballer so why do I need to think about anything else other than enjoying football? All the background noise is irrelevant – it’s all about enjoying yourself on the football pitch.”
He is certainly doing that so far in 2018-19.
It started in pre-season with Sturridge scoring six times and playing in all of Liverpool’s nine friendlies to put himself firmly in the frame for Jürgen Klopp at the beginning of the campaign.
A goal off the bench in the Premier League opener against West Ham United maintained the momentum and when Roberto Firmino suffered an unfortunate eye injury ahead of the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, Sturridge stepped in seamlessly.
It was his first start for the Reds in the competition. He scored, of course.
The No.15 broke the deadlock against PSG at Anfield with a clinical header at the Kop end
Back-to-back goals against Chelsea last week mean none of his teammates can better his tally of four so far this term – already more than he achieved for Liverpool last season.
And all this as he adapts to a new role.
“The position I’m playing now isn’t the old position I was playing. In the past, I’ve been a No.9 making runs behind, whereas now it’s more a No.10 than it was,” says Sturridge, whose goal ratio for the Reds remains just shy of one-in-two – 67 in 140 games.
“You’re probably a little bit deeper and working hard. The runs you probably would have made in behind you are now doing in the midfield area, getting on the ball and things like that.
“It’s just a different role; I wouldn’t say I’m working harder. On the outside it might seem as if I’m working harder. I felt in the past I did work hard but it was a different kind of position at the time. Now, it is different so your mindset has to be different going into the game before you play, about how you work defensively.
“We have wingers who make the runs in behind and they act as second strikers in effect, and the No.9 is now kind of a nine-and-a-half or 10 more than a No.9. Your role is just different but I enjoy it. I’ve always felt I could play a position like that.”
"The timing is perfect. We need him desperately and he is fit. He is so fit – the fittest Daniel I have known."
Sturridge considers his words carefully when asked about the possibilities of success this season, wary of promising too much at such an early stage, not least as this interview takes place just hours after the Reds’ elimination from the Carabao Cup.
But he knows for certain that the necessary talent and temperament exists in this squad.
“We want to get over the tipping point where we’re able to win something,” insists the Englishman.
“That’s the goal for us. Once we lift that first trophy, you’d hope that would have a domino effect and we’d be able to win a few more.
“I feel like I’m a winner – I’ve won stuff in the past. But it’s the future now. I want to win something here with Liverpool. We’ve had opportunities, we’ve been to a couple of finals since I’ve been here and weren’t able to win. To be able to win a trophy is what would take us to the next level.
“It’s one of those where you just have a positive attitude about it, don’t put any pressure on winning something or have it in your mind that we have to do this or that.
“When we play with a smile on our face and we work hard and put the opposition under a lot of pressure – stamp our style on them – I believe we can beat anybody on our day.
“We got to the Europa League final and the League Cup final [in 2016], last season we did well in the league and the boys got to the Champions League final. This season, we’re just focusing on trying to take the next step.
“But there’s no point in worrying about what we haven’t won or what we need to. We’ve got a great squad, a great manager, the backroom staff are top drawer, the fans are great. What more would players want?”
Sturridge is the Reds' joint-top scorer so far this season with four goals
There’s a sparkle in his eyes and a smirk on his face.
“It’s there in everybody,” he submits when pressed on whether those on the pitch share the excitement of those off it.
“But we have to take every game as it comes and the players have to stay focused throughout the season. Every single game is important, every game is a final for us because if you want to win the league consistency is key, especially going into the Christmas period, where you have a lot of games and a lot can be won or lost going through to January and February, when the weather is changing and there are a lot of games. That period is important for us.
“That’s where the teams who are going to win the league kick on, they have a new burst, a new lease of life once it gets to February and March.
“We’re going to have games where we don’t play as well but those are the games where you want to try to grind results out. We have to win dirty sometimes, too. We win beautiful all the time but we have to sometimes win dirty.
“There are a lot of tricks to this trade that maybe we haven’t used yet; but the experiences we’ve had over the last few years have got us to this point now where we’ve experienced so much. The boys experienced in the Champions League final last year what to do and what not to do. I feel all these things are what’s going to make us be successful.
“Failures make you a winner, because you learn from the failure and you improve mentally from it; you improve in every way, personality-wise and character-wise.
“There’s always an improvement when you fail because if you look from within and understand what you have to do to get to the next level – when you evaluate it and lay it all out on the table – that’s when you know you can get to the next step.”
Staying close to the fans - Sturridge signs a shirt for a supporter
Sturridge’s connection to Liverpool runs deep, perhaps deeper than realised.
The club ‘felt right’ when he joined in 2013 – from the obvious nature of the career opportunity at Anfield and the immediate affection of the fans to smaller details: the colour of the shirt, the number on his back.
“Loads of things married up when I came here and have continued for me,” he says.
Off the pitch, charitable endeavours that go unpublicised by design are borne out of his own experiences in childhood, his understanding of supporters built from having been one himself.
“As a footballer, we’re blessed to be in the position we’re in, where we can afford to do the majority of things we want to do and we’re in privileged positions where people treat us with respect the majority of the time. I don’t take that for granted because I have come from an environment where I didn’t have the privileges I have,” he opens up as the interview draws to a close.
“I understand some kids can’t afford tickets to games; I was a kid who couldn’t afford tickets to come to games, I was a kid who wanted to meet a professional footballer and take a photo or get an autograph.
“All these things are what make me who I am. I was one of them before. I was with my dad or grandad trying to enjoy football games. The charitable things, giving shirts to fans, signing autographs, talking to people is the smallest thing that could make somebody’s life so much better.
“I feel I can do a little bit to help people out, to always have a good vibe with the fans and stay close to them – just make as many people happy as I can.
“I’ve always appreciated the love they have shown me and the love I get in the city. They don’t have to have open arms for anybody. I know this club is passionate and the fans are passionate, I’ve got so much respect for the club. It’s a family club.
“I’m grateful for all the love I’ve got and I’m just looking forward to the future.”