Oh Danny boy, the Kop, the Kop is calling
Allow me to paint you a picture, or set the scene, if you will. My tale begins like so many others have, with a room of chairs filled with excited boys and girls. There’s chatter among those familiar with each other, curious to find out what news the day will bring. There’s genuine intrigue filling the room as there always is on these occasions, no matter how frequent they have become! As well as this there is an eagerness to get things right, to ask the right questions, and to glean as much information from their answers. I talk of course about the fabled Jürgen Klopp press conference.
Ever since the effervescent German landed on scouse soil, any opportunity to hear him talk about… Well, literally anything, has been met with nothing but glee from reds, and even rival fans the world over! Such is his charismatic personality it is nearly impossible not to get completely absorbed and hang off his every word. Not matter the subject, we can’t wait to hear his thoughts on the matter, and more importantly hear his laugh that he seems to just pop in at random intervals. There is one subject however that he can’t seem to get away from, no matter how many times he provides us with his insight…
The other day, prior to the West Ham game, there was another press conference. Given the post/pre-match requirement is for managers to hold one, this in itself is not news. Liverpool have played eight hundred matches since Klopp took charge, which means sixteen hundred press conferences to accompany them, so we are used to this scene. The story begins as told above, and much like the vibrating water in Jurassic park indicates the imminent arrival of an underfed T-Rex, the faint but distinctive, booming laugh of a certain German from down the corridor indicates his. Camera’s flash, and recorders are primed as he is welcomed into the room. It’s smiles all round, smiles from the journalists, genuinely happy to see the man once more, and anticipating a feast of soundbites from our manager, and smiles from the man himself, because he loves a good smile does our Jürgen.
He settles into his chair, everyone double checks their notes, there’s indication we’re ready to begin, and Jürgen takes a big swig from his now customary bottle of water. He replaces the lid, folds his arms, and sends a big grin out to his audience indicating that he too is ready to start. Then the first question gets fired in, “Jürgen, what progress is Daniel Sturridge making in terms of a possible return?” The smile fades, the eyes droop, and this question is met with a deep intake of breath, and a long sigh. Klopp looks down for a second considering his response, “I think, no news” he says looking back at the source of the opening question.
The expression on his face though is not one of frustration, as we have been led to expect. His response instead proposes something quite different. Don’t get me wrong, there have certainly been times when the never ending Daniel Sturridge question has been rolled out at sequential press conferences and have clearly riled the bemused German, given how things cannot possibly have changed in the two days since he last met the press. He has come to realise though that along with taking training sessions (when he eventually gets a spare morning) planning the tactics, naming the team sheet and trying to buy players – answering questions about Daniel Sturridge’s possible return date is part of the whole glorious Liverpool experience he willingly signed up for.
His response though implies this, “I am as rueful and baffled as you are that unfortunately once again, I have no news regarding Daniel Sturridge.” Here are the facts: Klopp has set him a clear goal that he must train without a day interruption for nine or ten days in a row. For what Klopp has referred to as a mini preseason. This is an excellent decision by Klopp, given that he quite rightly pointed out, Daniel has not had a preseason that has not been interrupted by injury or an international tournament since the summer of 2013, and we all remember what happened after that. When talking about this Klopp goes on to say how preseason is when footballers strengthen their bodies in preparation for the demanding season ahead. If any athlete fails to prepare themselves then it’s common sense that they are more susceptible to injury. Add this to an already injury prone athlete and your odds of staying injury free are dwindling by the second! This is what Klopp has had to deal with, and dealt with it he has.
By making his intentions quite clear with Sturridge from the outset Klopp has covered his back in this regard, i.e whenever he is inevitably asked about Sturridge he can refer back to his assertion that he has not yet completed the required consecutive days training. This was fine, right up to the point where the reported interest from West Ham United surfaced. This got Twitter anxious, and poll after poll was sent out to determine once and for all what the reds fan base thought of the idea of losing what has been (and probably still is) their best player. The results? Inconclusive. On the one hand we have the “cut our losses crew”, this group is firmly in the opinion that there is little point to having a twenty plus goal a season striker (some would say world class) on the books if you can never get him on the pitch. This crowd certainly has a fair point. Although it is not our money, it does seem that the reported £120k a week wage Sturridge is receiving (equating to £9.48 million since the start of last season) could be better spent elsewhere, like oh I don’t know… reducing the price of match tickets? Let’s do one story at a time though..
On the other hand there are the hopers, the dreamers, and as Jürgen asked for himself, the believers. To be fair, his request for our belief was meant in another context, but it should probably apply to all facets of our support. This group are more of the opinion that we would be mad to let go of someone as lethal as Sturridge can be in front of goal. At the moment this argument carries more weight than the “sell him while we can” idea. This is simply because everything we love about Daniel Sturridge – his pace, his movement, his sniper scope eye for goal, and yes, even the dance – is being exacerbated by the enormous sink hole that has appeared in our team in the attacking third of the pitch. Last season Sturridge was eternally absent, as he is again this time round, but we also had the loss of Luis Suarez to deal with.
Losing Suarez, who was arguably the most talented individual ever to don the red shirt, was beyond painful. What poured acid into the gaping wounds of Suarez leaving was the motley crew we were left with to pick up the goal scoring duties. “BaB” (Balotelli and Borini) or “BaL” Balotelli and Lambert) or even “LaB” (Lambert and Borini) had neither the headline grabbing qualities, nor the actual footballing qualities required to come close to replace the aptly named lethal “SaS” of the 13-14 season.
Fast forward to this season and we’re faced with the same, yet slightly different conundrum. We are once again without our best attacking option in Daniel Sturridge. This season the firepower we have brought in to surround him is far stronger than last year. Origi >Borini, Ings >Lambert, and generally speaking people would agree overall Benteke>Balotelli. Some of those comparisons aren’t taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each individual, but generally speaking most reds would say they are accurate to some extent.
The problem we have faced this time round has been injuries. All season long, and all through the team, we have been overrun with one injury after another. Almost certainly an affect of the incredible number of games our players are having to play, not down to the time defying “double training sessions” that some pundits have suggested. But in attack this has been especially prominent with Ings out for the season, Origi having missed huge chunks from various niggles and a surgery, and of course the Sturridge problem. This has led to Benteke spending the majority of the season being overburdened and over relied upon. Benteke is clearly a confidence player. His goal runs, and goal droughts are testimony to this fact, and given the whole team is falling short in the “winning games” department this season, he has been made (and in some cases rightly so) a scape-goat for a lot of the reds short comings.
Ironically Sturridge himself has only added fuel to the fire. His brief stints in the first team this season have warranted a goal every eighty eight minutes… It is this fact that makes the saga so frustrating! Like in a dream where you can see what you want, but every time you try to grab it, it appears a foot to the right, so tantalising and yet always just out of reach. In real terms his match winning goals against Aston Villa in September, and against Southampton in November were like a bowl of ice cold water crashing into your face after a long night out. A very brisk reminder of what we have and yet don’t have at the same time. I include Southampton in this because consider Sturridge doesn’t move into space, latch onto the beautiful arching ball played by Joe Allen, take a slightly heavy touch, compose himself, quick shimmy, then BANG. One all. Follow this up with his ninja drifting into the box ahead of another exquisite ball played outside of the foot over the static Southampton defenders, and BOOM. Two one. suddenly we’re all over that game having been second best for the first fifteen minutes. Ask yourself do we win that six one if Sturridge doesn’t play? Do we win that at all if Sturridge doesn’t just Sturridge all over their faces?
So where does this leave us? Can we really contemplate a Sturridge-less world? Because for some reds Sturridge’s potential return to an otherwise blunt attack is a tiny, but prominent ray of light piercing the darkness.
The other day there was a press conference. We know the drill, they happen about 30 times a week. Klopp gives us his thoughts on Leicester, on how we play, on how they play, on past meetings etc. It follows the formula. Then something magical happens. Klopp drops the ‘S’ bomb without being asked (actually on this occasion it was a ‘D’ bomb but that might come across wrong…) “Daniel will be back training with the team on Wednesday”. It’s dropped in casually, but everyone double checks the notes, did he just say that? Did we mishear him? Everyone in the room is running down the squad list reminding themselves of everyone’s first name. There is only one Daniel. For us there should be only one Daniel. The latest injury saga appears to be coming to a conclusion.
There are two ways to look at it, the first is the good bit. We need goals, and fuck me does he have goals! We need movement, and yes, he has movement. I know for a fact that there isn’t a single red out there who isn’t desperate to see that dance again in the flesh instead of weeping in the small hours over YouTube videos from two years ago. The second is to be sceptical, we’ve been here before, we know how this story plays out, and we’re always left with egg, pie, and whatever the mancs throw all over our face. This time though… This time…
We need a hero. We need one now. January is over, so we’re not shipping one in. However if this mini preseason has had the desired effect, and if Daniel Sturridge can get some regular games under his belt before his limbs dissolve, we have the prospect of a very very bright light emerging. You get the feeling that this will surely be his last chance, especially with a ruthless manager like Klopp at the helm, but Klopp, just as much as the fans is desperate to get him back on the pitch. He knows what we have. He knows what we need. And Daniel Sturridge is both. So come on Danny boy, the Kop, the Kop is calling. Give us a reason to sing!
Up the Reds