Red hot: Now thriving at Liverpool, Sturridge looking for more
His impact is as immediate as it was against Manchester United at the start of September. When Daniel Sturridge enters the cafeteria at Melwood -- Liverpool's training ground -- there's a sharp surge in the energy levels, or to borrow one of his favorite words, the 'vibe.' There is nothing subtle about the striker; he's incredibly witty and animated and is quite easily the center of attention. Everyone from Joe Allen to Kolo Toure is subjected to his bouts of banter, random renditions of hip-hop songs and impromptu So You Think You Can Dance auditions in the carpeted corridors.
Even Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, selecting his preferred greens from the salad bar, is entertained by the 24-year-old's exuberance. It's not just about his charisma and comedic value though, as Victor Moses points out. "Don't be fooled. He may like joking around, but Dan is one of the most dedicated and determined players I've come across," says the on-loan winger from Chelsea, whose relationship with the player extends beyond Merseyside.
'Studger' had been painted as the FA Youth Cup hero turned big-headed, money-crazed kid at Manchester City before being depicted as just another reject from the Blues' recycle bin. Liverpool finally allowed the attacker to apply his own brush strokes, and the picture doesn't require any Instagram filters.
"I feel so happy here, I feel at home, because the club have been really good to me," Sturridge tells SI.com. "I want to leave everything on the field for them because they've given me the platform to play my natural game and just enjoy myself again."
|Sturridge's Premier League Career Stats|
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Since his January switch from Stamford Bridge to Anfield, the Reds have benefited from the forward's best. Sturridge has either scored or assisted 17 goals in his past 13 Premier League appearances -- perhaps none bigger than his quick-strike, fourth-minute goal against Manchester United in Liverpool's potentially season-shaping 1-0 victory on Sept. 1.
Liverpool's gain has been two of its title rivals' loss.
In December 2011, then-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini admitted it was a ridiculous decision for the club to let "one of the best young players" leave. Sturridge's January departure from Chelsea, which initially was celebrated by its supporters, has now transformed into feelings of regret.
How prolific has Sturridge been? He already has scored more league goals (17) for the Reds than Fernando Torres has netted in four seasons (15) in London. During his three campaigns for the Blues, Sturridge made 25 fewer top-flight appearances than the Spaniard but scored just two fewer goals.
"To the Chelsea fans who tell me now, 'We wish you didn't leave, that you were still playing for us,' I tell them it had to happen, as everything has its reason," he says. "What happened at Chelsea was meant to happen. Liverpool is the right club for me and I'm happy here now.
"I'm just playing the way I usually do, and I'm blessed that it is what the team needs from me."
Sturridge, who never has been short on self-belief regardless of his circumstance, has no designs on criticizing his doubters though.
"It's not even about proving people wrong. I know what I can do, and sometimes people don't like the fact that you can be confident," adds the Premier League's current top goal scorer. "Take [Cristiano] Ronaldo for example, people say he's cocky and all sorts, but it's not arrogance, he works hard and he believes in himself.
"I'm the same. I put in the hours and I know what I can achieve, so I just back myself and with everyone in the club also believing in me, it makes it easier to put in good performances."
His performances haven't just been good; they've habitually been the difference between three points and one -- or none. With Luis Suarez suspended at the start of the season, Sturridge danced Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table. Upon the Uruguayan's return, he has retained his status as a finisher but has also doubled up as an adept provider.
Seven goals in eight Premier League games with seven chances created would please the very best in England. Not Sturridge, though. "I don't want to get comfortable," he explains. "I actually get very uncomfortable when I'm comfortable.
"I hate complacency. I'm not happy with just having good numbers; I'm not content when I know there's more to accomplish."
For Sturridge, it is not enough to measure himself against his competitors in England. The real challenge is to exceed his own expectations but to also match his craft against world football's two wonders: Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
"When I was a kid, I would always score a goal a game or more. It would never be less goals than games," he said. "Obviously it's not the same when you're in the first team of a big club. It is much more difficult, but that's the aim to try and get it as close as possible. I know what I can do, and I have to make sure I'm competing against myself and pushing as hard as I can.
"It's more difficult now, but Messi and Ronaldo are doing on the big stage what they achieved as kids, which is what we have to aspire to. Ronaldo and Messi are setting the bar to the next level, and that's where I need to be encouraging myself to get."
It is not just the attacker who obsesses over how he can improve. His father, Michael, who tried his hand at professional football, studies Sturridge's game. His uncles Dean and Simon, who led the line at Derby County and Birmingham City, respectively, also act as good reference points for the England international.
"I am very critical of myself, so I'll watch a game and think, 'I didn't do very well over there.' My dad is the same. He's my biggest fan and critic, so he'll watch videos and pick out stuff, which annoys me to be honest, but I have to take it on board so I can become a better player. I come from a family that is crazy about football, with my uncles as well, so there is always advice and tips that's available for me."
The one nagging criticism of Sturridge is that he can be too selfish, choosing to fashion chances for himself instead of passing to a better-placed teammate. Like most assumptions of his game in the past, he feels this, too, is wide of the target.
"When I was at Chelsea, I was a striker playing wide, and if you look at the amount of shots I took and you look at Didier [Drogba] and Lamps [Frank Lampard] when they get the ball in and around the area, they don't always look to pass it. They have a goal-scoring mentality, and that is what I have. There's a difference between if you don't see a pass, or if you see the pass, but you don't pass it," he explains.
"There have been occasions where I could've shot, like against Newcastle when I laid it on for Jordan [Henderson], and he scored. There's times when you don't see the pass, and there's times you'll make a good run, and your teammates won't see it. You understand; it happens in football. There has to a be a balance of when to be selfish, and knowing when not to be and that's something all forwards need to work on."
As he sips his white tea and prepares to jump into his white Porsche Panamera, there's one other thought on Sturridge's mind: Samba.
"A World Cup in Brazil. It even sounds so good when you say it. As a professional, those are the kind of stages you want to get to and the experiences you remember," he says of next year's showpiece, for which England has qualified.
It's pointless to ask him his expectations or ambitions because it is clear Sturridge doesn't confine himself to certain achievements. "I won't say that I want to get X number of goals. That's a bit limiting. What I will say though is that I want to get to the stage where people think there is no way I can improve any more and yet I prove them wrong and just keep growing stronger."
The smart move would be to not bet against him. Just ask City and Chelsea.
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