I have a confession; England’s late winner against Wales was the most I’ve ever celebrated an England goal. As someone who’s been traditionally ambivalent towards the fortune of the national team, I allowed a wave of euphoria to overtake me and joined in the festivities of the many fans occupying the same pub as me. However while the drama and the occasion contributed to my joy, the main factor was the scorer himself. I am a huge fan of Daniel Sturridge and to see him grab a well-taken and crucial goal was massively pleasing given that there were many polls suggesting he be left out of the squad for Marcus Rashford or even Jermain Defoe.
Prior to this tournament, it was a difficult time to be a supporter of Sturridge. Going into the 2014 World Cup, he was clearly England’s best player with the team built around his talents, but with his injury problems and the emergence of in-form rivals for his place, the pro-Sturridge brigade was relatively quiet. There was a substantial but largely silent contingent who still believed that Sturridge was England’s best forward but it was nearly impossible to argue for his inclusion in the starting XI given Harry Kane’s consecutive 20+ goal league campaigns and Jamie Vardy firing Leicester to the title. The goal against Wales was a stark reminder that while England have an abundance of forward options, Sturridge is perhaps a unique blend of various talents that his competitors cannot emulate.
The goal was one that out of England’s strikers, only Sturridge could’ve scored. The patience and vision to find Vardy with the pass, the movement to enter the box and the poise to dummy and then finish on his weaker foot are a combination of events that simply could not have happened without Sturridge on the pitch. It appears likely that Sturridge will be rewarded with a start against Slovakia, which would definitely be the most prudent decision Roy Hodgson could make. Harry Kane is only 22 and will have future opportunities to make his mark at major tournaments but it would appear that this European Championships is a tournament too early for the Spurs frontman. As such, he should seek to pick Sturridge who is ostensibly England’s best forward at this time.
Despite his ability, this decision will irritate some. For some reason, Sturridge is plagued by an aura of unlikeability, whereby he is always castigated as greedy and arrogant with little evidence to back this up. An example of this would be how he was roundly vilified for attempting to claim a Coutinho goal that lightly brushed his back, when this is a course of action any natural poacher worth his salt would’ve taken. Even his goal celebration is taken to be a form of mockery and as such, the impression we get of Sturridge tends to be a largely negative one. It is interesting to note how our perceptions of players shape how we critique them; note how that now he has come across a run of terrible form, Harry Kane’s name is automatically prefixed with “fatigued” despite no indication from the player or his manager that he has been feeling tired, whereas the same grace has not been extended to Raheem Sterling, who has been branded as inept.
Sturridge’s tendency to shoot, and shoot a lot can also be frustrating but again this is part and parcel of being a top-level striker. Sturridge’s remit is to score goals, and he is extremely good at shooting, so it makes sense that he does it often. Detractors of the “greedy” Liverpool striker will be distressed to find out that Sturridge actually shot less times per game than Harry Kane in the Premier League, but the pair recorded the same shot accuracy. Sturridge’s unfair reputation as a greedy player masks perhaps his most useful attribute; he has the ability to make the attack as a whole function more fluidly and while England have been decent going forward, that final bit of quality could come in handy as that tournament progresses.
England probably have the best attacking options in the tournament so they have the luxury of being able to switch it up if the starting option fails to perform. I’m hoping that Sturridge does get his start and grabs a goal against Slovakia to solidify his position as England’s first choice. Despite the astonishing domestic form of Kane and Vardy, England find themselves in the odd position that their best striker only scored 8 league goals