When Daniel Sturridge came on for his first West Bromwich Albion appearance away to Manchester City, he brought a bit of excitement by having the team’s only clearcut chance in an otherwise dull 3-0 loss.
In the next game, Sturridge started at home to Southampton and showed more glimpses of his quality before coming off after 68 minutes. He was rusty from a lack of game time but fans were willing to be patient with a player they knew could potentially make such a huge difference to the team.
Then it happened, West Brom kick off against an out-of-form Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, all fired up to get a result and three minutes in, Sturridge limps off with a hamstring injury.
It was hoped that the on-loan Liverpool striker would only be out for one game, an FA Cup tie at home to Southampton but Sturridge’s has been unavailable to this day.
Crucial games against Huddersfield, Watford, Leicester and Bournemouth, where Albion desperately needed wins, have been lost. Three points against any of those teams could have kick-started a survival boost but each match had its own gutting feel to it, even with the Baggies taking the lead in two of those fixtures.
It has to be said, the worst possible outcome of the Sturridge signing has happened. The whole footballing world knew that if Albion could keep the England international fit, then it would pay off. Even now, after the international break, Sturridge was expected to return for Burnley’s visit to The Hawthorns, another fixture which should have been crucial to the club’s survival bid but it’s now looking as good as an exhibition. At the moment, Sturridge is expected to be fit when West Brom host Swansea on April 10. The phrase “too little, too late” springs to mind.
When the inevitable happens and Albion have that (R) next to their name, fans will wonder what could have been if Sturridge did stay fit for his short loan period. The former Chelsea man had a tough time with his fitness and lack of involvement under Jurgen Klopp’s but if there was any possibility Albion could bring back Luis Suarez’s strike partner from the 2013/14 season, this was a gamble that had to be taken.
Albion’s supporters have the right to be frustrated at how the season has gone but shouldn’t regret signing Sturridge as it made perfect sense at the time. It’s easy to say with hindsight that the club were clueless to sign an injury-prone striker in such a difficult league position but nobody could deny what the signing did for the club before the player even played a minute of football.
In the month of January, Albion had beaten Exeter City, claimed a comfortable league victory over Brighton and were unlucky not to win at Goodison Park. All was going well and astonishingly, Albion knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup in a 3-2, VAR-filled thriller at Anfield.
The mood at the club was as high as it had been for a long time – if the team played like that for the rest of the season, there should have been no issues with regards relegation. Then, coming up to deadline day, Albion snatch the services of the Liverpool striker on loan for the rest of the season.
Incredible, this was a man who attracted interest from Inter Milan, Sevilla and was on the cusp of joining relegation-rivals Newcastle before deciding to join West Brom. It was a perfect statement from the club that they were serious in their bid to survive. To fend off other clubs and convince a player of Sturridge’s calibre to join was truly impressive and gave the club a lift, if only for a short while.
It’s been five years since Romelu Lukaku’s loan at the Hawthorns expired and he still really hasn’t been replaced but a fit Sturridge would surely have done the trick.
As it turns out though, it really can’t have gone much worse since then with not a single win on the board and plenty of unwanted attention off the pitch. Fans shouldn’t blame Sturridge’s lack of fitness but that nothing has really gone right for West Brom this season.
Rather than being angry, it’s better to view the Sturridge outcome as a genuine pity that it didn’t work out. Even if he returned for the game against Swansea, that’s a maximum of five games he can feature in for the remainder of the season, considering him being ineligible when parent club Liverpool come to town.
Where Sturridge’s career will go after this season is hard to know. This move has proved that whoever signs him next will be taking a big gamble. With his Liverpool career as good as over, Sturridge will have to look elsewhere to find his fitness again and even another Premier League club taking that punt would be hard to imagine.
Even in a World Cup year, Sturridge would probably be on the plane to Russia if he just had five or six goals under his belt, especially after being a key player in England’s last two tournaments. Along with Nacer Chadli, he’ll have to consider any game he’s fit for a shop window with a place in their respective squads on the line.
As far as West Bromwich Albion are concerned, they’re as good as down and more than likely are more focused on coming back up already.
With regard to the Sturridge deal, it is a great shame it failed as bad as it did but Albion had to roll the dice – it just somehow landed on zero.