Sturridge's Spanish test
Striker needs to convince Southgate and Liverpool he deserves to be their first-choice
ENGLAND v SPAIN
(Wednesday, Nov 16, 3.55am, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)
Daniel Sturridge should curse his rotten luck for being born in the wrong era.
Had the England striker pulled on the jersey in previous decades, he might have drawn favourable comparisons with the country's finest forwards.
Instead, he is expected to lead the line in a friendly against Spain on Wednesday morning wondering why he remains such a maligned character.
Bobby Moore once remarked of Jimmy Greaves that the England legend invariably did nothing all game before knocking in his usual hat-trick.
Gary Lineker became a national treasure without ever leaving the six-yard box and Robbie Fowler rarely saw the other half unless it was his wife.
But Sturridge now stands accused of alleged offences that were once considered essential attacking qualities.
He's an individualist in a modern, collective movement. His game is built around himself, rather than self-sacrifice.
For Sturridge, defending is best left to defenders. After all, he doesn't ask his back four to share his scoring burden, does he?
The trouble is, his club manager most certainly does.
Liverpool's Juergen Klopp cannot tolerate a sloppy work ethic.
Whether it's heavy industry or light entertainment, the workload must be evenly distributed, along with the goals if necessary.
But Sturridge just wasn't born that way. His prodigious ability, confidence and inventive swagger have conjured some truly memorable goals.
His deft header against Scotland at the weekend, the cheeky jabbed finish against Sevilla in the Europa League final and the injury-time winner against Wales in Euro 2016 were all outstanding examples of an accomplished striker.
Roy Hodgson once said that the most naturally gifted forward in his squad was Sturridge.
Harry Kane was also in the squad. No one disagreed with Hodgson.
Sturridge is fast, innovative and appears to tie the ball to his left boot, when the mood takes him.
And yet here we are, a 27-year-old seasoned international and World Cup veteran still seeking to prove his potential for both England manager Gareth Southgate and Klopp at Liverpool.
Klopp clearly isn't convinced. Sturridge warms the Anfield bench most weeks, still waiting for his first English Premier League goal of the season.
Despite two goals in Southgate's three games in charge, England's striking deputy must also persuade sceptics that he's more than just an expensive luxury item.
Sturridge has enjoyed a decade of a top-flight football and still comes with a question mark. The hazy gap between potential and pedigree remains unbridged at a time when he should be scaling his peak.
His career has always appeared to be slightly off-balance.
There was a veiled problem with no obviously solution, which ensured he didn't quite make it at Manchester City and Chelsea despite his obvious strengths.
Niggling injuries, too many dips in form and a selfish streak that occasionally disrupted the team dynamic all served to reinforce the impression that he pandered too much to the man in the mirror.
Ryan Giggs, his Great Britain teammate at London 2012, recently said that Sturridge possessed every attribute to be the leading striker, particularly when he played on instinct.
When he had time to make a decision, however, he didn't always make the right one.
Liverpool great Graeme Souness blames an inherent laziness, a stubborn inability to support teammates, that stops Sturridge from being a Liverpool regular, let alone an England starter.
Certainly, the Three Lions forward was conspicuous by his absence against Slovenia. In a tight, scruffy fixture, he vanished shortly after kick-off, reinforcing the perception that he thrives on football's red carpet, when poor opponents and generous colleagues indulge him.
In other words, when Sturridge gets the VIP treatment, he behaves like a star. He's not one for toil and strife.
So the Spain friendly represents a timely audition.
He's in the running for two roles, eager to impress not only Southgate, but also the unconvinced German up in Liverpool.
With the Spaniards expected to dominate possession, Sturridge's supposedly apathetic approach will be vigorously tested.
If he really wants the ball, he's got to go and get it. He should recognise and accept that his performance will have repercussions for both England and Liverpool.
Klopp already appears to be looking for an excuse to sell Sturridge. It's up to his striker not to give him one at Wembley.
It’s important to have a focal point of the team. That’s where I need to be, in between the lines...
— Daniel Sturridge
Daniel: Don't label me 'lazy'
England striker Daniel Sturridge has railed against suggestions he is not a team player, insisting he has a responsibility to play high up the field and hunt goals.
Sturridge's raw ability is not in question, but he has attracted criticism throughout his career about his work-rate and willingness to dig deep for the side.
He has started all three games since Gareth Southgate's arrival as interim manager, scoring in wins over Malta and Scotland, but receiving modest notices for his efforts in the stalemate against Slovenia.
Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp appears to have resolved to treat Sturridge as a luxury item rather than a key starter and he is yet to open his Premier League account for the season.
With England's prestige friendly against Spain looming tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the 27-year-old has defended his approach.
Asked about the perception that he does not offer enough around the park, Sturridge said: "I don't worry about that, it's an unfair opinion.
"I feel that I contribute to the team with assists and goals. It doesn't really matter what people say to me."
He also believes the team benefit tactically from his single-minded approach to leading the line and that chasing the ball too closely would be a dereliction of duty.
"It's about positional awareness at the end of the day," he explained. "My job is to score and my job is to create for the team and coming into the midfield positions is maybe too deep.
"I feel that if I'm coming short and I'm trying to get involved in the game then there's no-one up front in the forward positions.
"It's important to have a focal point of the team. If I drop deep and come on the ball, do skills and take people on, there's no one in the centre-forward position.
"That's where I need to be, in between the lines, threatening the centre halves, pushing them back and creating space for the other people.
"Sometimes I have to drop in there to maybe give them a different picture to create more problems but, again, it's about being in the box. That is where I need to be."
Meanwhile, England captain Wayne Rooney will not start the friendly against Spain after missing training yesterday, manager Southgate said.
Rooney sat out the session due to minor issues and Southgate confirmed that Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson will lead the team against the 2010 world champions at Wembley tomorrow morning.
"I wouldn't start Wayne in this game anyway. Jordan Henderson will be captain," said Southgate.
"The key for me is I believe we have several leaders and I don't think we can have just one captain.
"Too much responsibility has been on Wayne, we need to share that. Once you have a team of those leaders you can have a lot of success."
The Spain game will be the last of Southgate's four-match audition and he wants to know within weeks whether he will be England's next permanent manager.
After the Spain clash, England are not in action again until March and Southgate said: "It will be important for me to know what I'm doing after the middle of November.
"We've got a European Under-21 Championship to prepare for and the seniors have got their next round of qualifiers (in March).
"Of course everybody is going to want to know, I guess, by the end of November, middle of December, where everything is heading so we can decide who is responsible for which parts of the organisation's work.
"That's not my decision in the end. I've enjoyed what I've done so far." - Wire Services.