When Liverpool’s stars began pre-season, there was a whole host of faces that weren’t expected to be there when the competitive matches started. Somehow, a handful of players have remained and seem to be contributing nothing to the team other than stealing a wage, I’m looking at you Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic. But there is one man whose time was up at Liverpool in the eyes of many, who is now showing that he still has something to offer the Reds. That man, Daniel Sturridge, has started the season on fire already scoring four goals in all competitions despite only starting twice and losing his iconic burst of acceleration to his well-documented injury problems.
Any tactical analysis of Sturridge this season will highlight statistics showing that while he might not be as good as he once was, this fitter and more confident Sturridge still possesses undoubted quality and, provided he remains fit, will play a vital role for Liverpool this season. But what happens beyond this season? Sturridge’s contract runs out in the summer and the striker can sign a contract with foreign teams from January onwards, so it won’t be long until Sturridge and Liverpool will again be considering the striker’s future.
The Case for a New Contract
The case for Liverpool offering Sturridge a new contract is already being made. While the Englishman is still only really back-up for Roberto Firmino, he is miles ahead of Liverpool’s other striking options. Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi disappointed last season and couldn’t make the most of their chances during pre-season like Sturridge did, while youngster Rhian Brewster is only just returning from a long-term injury and won’t be in first-team plans for a couple more months at least. This means that should Sturridge not receive a contract renewal, Liverpool would have the thankless task of signing a new striker as good as Sturridge but at an affordable price, particularly as Sturridge would be leaving for nothing.
If Liverpool were to have to replace Sturridge, there are no obvious options as most players with Sturridge’s goalscoring ability would command large transfer fees and want guarantees over game time, something that Jurgen Klopp would be unwilling to give due to the quality of Firmino as his main striker. The alternative is to sign a highly-rated youngster but that comes with a greater risk than keeping Sturridge as shown by Solanke only scoring one-goal last season. There is little doubt that Solanke and Brewster have the potential to develop into Premier League strikers but at the minute the distance between them and the Liverpool first team is too great for them to be Liverpool’s first-choice back-ups for Firmino and this gap is unlikely to have fallen enough by next season.
While current striking options at Liverpool are poor, there are several talented young strikers at the club like Solanke and Brewster, as well as youth strikers Bobby Duncan, formerly of Man City, Liam Miller and Paul Glatzel. By showing dedication to get back to a level that warrants a place at Liverpool following a failed spell on loan at West Brom in the second half of last season, Sturridge has silenced the fans that questioned his mentality in previous years and shown he is ready to take on a senior role in the dressing room. A major part of this role for Sturridge will be passing on what he has learnt in an already long Premier League career to the young attacking talents so Liverpool can promote from within rather than recruiting in an inflated market.
The Case Against a New Contract
The obvious argument against a new contract has been used to argue against Sturridge remaining at Liverpool for the past few seasons, his abysmal injury record. Sturridge has never started 30+ games in a league season for Liverpool, this includes his brilliant 2013/14 season where he scored 21 goals in just 29 league starts. However, Sturridge has looked fitter and stronger this season than at any point since the 2013/14 season with a tailored training regime allowing the striker to remain fit enough to be used as a rotation option to allow the other forwards a rest. But at 29-years-old, there is a sense that it is only a matter of time before Sturridge’s body lets him down again and with Liverpool hoping to be competing on three fronts come the end of the season there is a big risk that this could happen at a crucial point of the season.
While injuries come to mind as the main stumbling block for Sturridge getting a new contract, the actual main stumbling block will be Sturridge’s wage demands. At the age of 29, Sturridge’s next contract may be his last major deal and as he is still earning over £100k-a-week at Liverpool, he will be expecting a similar pay packet if not a larger sum. Liverpool will be unlikely to offer this with them likely to look for a more incentivised package so that they’re not paying for Sturridge to sit on the injury table as they have done in previous years. This could see Sturridge sign a contract at another club where he is guaranteed to earn more money rather than having the majority of his wage packet rely on the number of appearances he makes, with game time being far from guaranteed at Liverpool even if he continues to avoid injuries after having only played 295 minutes out of a possible 1,080 this season.
Should he get a new contract?
I think that Liverpool are going to put off contract negotiations with Sturridge for as long as possible to ensure that he can remain fit for a prolonged period again because that will be the only reason Liverpool won’t want to enter negotiations with the former Chelsea striker. Ultimately, Sturridge is a quality player who brings a skillset to the Liverpool side that they don’t currently possess and when fit, is an invaluable option up front due to him being a natural goalscorer. However, the likelihood is that the decision over a new contract will rest with Sturridge and his wage packet not being so large that Liverpool are unwilling to offer it to him. So long as Sturridge stays fit and keeps scoring it is almost inevitable that Liverpool will offer a contract to him, but for the first time in a number of seasons Sturridge is in control of his own destiny and will make the decision on the club he is at next season.