With Perth Glory set to get their A-League Men campaign underway on Saturday, all eyes will be firmly focused on HBF Park as supporters hope to get a first glimpse of Daniel Sturridge in action.
Ahead of his highly anticipated Australian debut, Kick360 caught up with long time friend and former team-mate Nedum Onuoha to get some insight on Perth’s new marquee man.
Onuoha first encountered Sturridge in the mid 2000s, watching the young forward (and his then strike partner, Wellington Phoenix attacker David Ball) scoring goals for fun in the Manchester City youth teams.
Those performances would earn Sturridge a call up to the senior set up where the two would spend three years as team-mates, bonding over shared experiences and a love of music, before the forward departed for Chelsea.
Despite their career paths diverging after those days on the blue side of Manchester, the two have remained good friends.
While any who have watched Daniel Sturridge in action over the past decade or so will be familiar with his infectious personality, love of banter and iconic goal celebrations, Onuoha reveals that the striker has a very different side to him; one that might surprise many who have followed his career so far.
“He is quite shy, he’s not really ‘out there’ all the time,” Onuoha said.
“For somebody that’s been the talent that he is and done what he’s done in his career, you almost expect him to be like that but I think he enjoys private time, and that’s increased a lot over the years.
“He’s had a child and settled down with his long term partner, he’s a good guy, a very, very good guy and he’s got good intentions.”
While Sturridge might be a quiet and private individual away from the field, he remains a driven, passionate professional and a joyous presence in the dressing room.
“He’s got a great desire to win and he’s very passionate about that. He’s passionate about winning, he’s passionate about playing, passionate about the game.
“He loves being a part of it, being around the guys, loves joking around and making people happy at the training ground but he does have a bit of an edge to him as well, because he expects the highest standards.”
“For me, I’ve known him for 15-20 years now, and he’s a really good human being. Always brings a smile to your face, and that’s not something you can really level at everyone you play with or know in your time.”
“This is one of the sharpest strikers that the league’s ever seen”
Onuoha knows all too well what it’s like to come up against Sturridge too; friends becoming foes, albeit for 90 minutes, when they crossed paths in their post City days.
The former Premier League defender shares a warning for A-League opposition.
“He’s incredibly sharp. This is a guy who will be looking to score goals from any angle, every possible position. When it’s crunch time, I don’t expect to see him outside of the box.
“I’d kinda say he’s obsessed with scoring. When he’s at his absolute best, I think he’s one of the best finishers English football has ever seen. If he’s anywhere near that in the A-League then you can expect him to score a tonne of goals.
“If he gets rolling, if he finds his fitness, finds his form, this is one of the sharpest strikers that the league’s ever seen; from little movements to finishes to touches to the football intelligence and IQ… this is someone who was an England International and deserved to be there.
“If he’s anywhere near his best, he should be a joy to watch.”
And for some, there definitely is an ‘if’.
Sturridge’s career has undoubtedly been impacted by injuries in recent years, and off field issues have meant he arrives in Australia without playing a game of professional football for 19 months.
But Onuoha re-assures Kick360 that the Glory’s new striker wouldn’t have headed Down Under if he didn’t still have that burning desire to succeed.
“I’m sure he was frustrated about not necessarily playing week in, week out but for him, as he’s a bit older and with a family now, it has to be the right option. It’s not just any option anymore. When you’re younger you’ll go wherever just to play football but there’s more of a balance to it.
“He was more so biding his time, but making sure that he was ready when the time comes. When the time comes [for him to retire], Daniel Sturridge and his legacy is significant and I don’t think he’s going to be considering, even for a second, that he would throw that away by not attempting to take this next stage seriously because the fact is, if he didn’t want to do it, he would have stopped already. But I think he always had that desire to get back in to the game and he’s just been waiting for the right opportunity and he’s found it.
“The time away, I’m sure was tough for him in some ways but it will also have given him the bug back. That’s the thing that happens over time. With little spells away you can either figure out you don’t want to go back or have this huge desire to go back, and I think he has that desire and I expect to see the best of him going forward.”
There’s been a real sense of excitement and anticipation around the league since the Glory announced they had secured Sturridge’s signature back in October.
“He could be an absolute monster”
A genuine superstar was headed for Australian soil, ready to kick start a new era for football in the country.
But that reputation comes with a sense of expectation.
“This is a guy who was playing for Liverpool Football Club. One of the biggest clubs in the world. When it comes down to coming over to the A-League, he will sense that expectation, but he’s dealt with it before.” Says the player turned pundit.
“Some of his best seasons have come representing that football club at the highest level. I’m not trying to disrespect the A-League, but that will be a different sort of pressure, and the pressure will be more so be on himself, to get back to where he was in terms of performances.
“I think that’ll be a bigger deal rather than the pressure other people put on him and I don’t think it’ll affect him at all.
“The only way, in my opinion, things won’t go right is if he doesn’t settle in to the area, in to the city or something like that.”
This is something Onuoha witnessed first hand during a spell with Real Salt Lake at the end of his career.
“When I was in the MLS, it is very different to playing in England. Very, very different. A lot of things you get used to all of a sudden aren’t the case anymore. This is where you get the split.
“There are some people who go over and love the experience, like myself, and some others hate it because they have to travel all the time. There are to very different schools of thought, and I think whichever one he falls in to will define his time there.
“If he fully buys in to the whole experience, and sees it as a long term thing, then yes [He’ll be a success]. You will find the best of him because he’ll very quickly grasp what’s required, see it’s a different style of soccer or understand that he might be a factor at this point, the travel might be a factor at that point, these are the best teams, what makes that team better, why do Adelaide play in a certain way, why do Victory play in a certain way… If he buys in to all of that, then 100 percent, yes.
“If for any means he’s unsettled, then I don’t think we’ll see the best of him; because then he’ll realise he’s a long, long way from where he would class as home as being.
“But if he settles, and really buys in, he could be an absolute monster in that league.”