Will Daniel Sturridge affect the balance of Perth Glory?

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“You can’t change something so special” were the words of new Perth Glory signing Daniel Sturridge when asked if his iconic goal-scoring celebration will be following him across the globe.

Headlines were made late last week when news broke that the 32-year-old former Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool striker would be making the move to Western Australia. It is a statement signing for Richard Garcia’s side and has the potential for huge returns both on and off the pitch.

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A two-time Champions League winner with 26 international caps to his name, Sturridge has been described as the most naturally talented English striker of his generation and scored some spectacular goals in his 13-year Premier League career.

Then there’s the celebration. Sturridge’s iconic dancing routine is as well known as Tim Cahill’s famous punching the corner flag effort and even has its own ‘How to’ guide on YouTube.

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However, there’s a catch, and there usually is when a player of such calibre moves to the A-League. Sturridge simply doesn’t play enough. He averages 23 games a season across an injury-plagued career with most of those campaigns at teams regularly competing on four different fronts.

It is also 18 months since he last kicked a ball competitively. Sturridge joined Turkish side Trabzonspor in August 2019, but that spell came to an end in March 2020 when he was found guilty of breaching betting guidelines and received a four-month suspension. Recently, he has been training with Real Mallorca in Spain and the La Liga side were reportedly keen to offer him a deal in January once a spot opened in their squad.

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Recent photos suggest that Sturridge is in great physical condition and ready to hit the ground running on arrival in Perth. Travel aside, the demands of the A-League Men’s competition aren’t as vigorous as Europe with one fixture per week and a lot less games in total so that should suit his body.

Tony Sage, Glory’s pantomime villain owner, has at times made the club the laughing stock of Australian football. As recently as February 2020, his attempt to bring in a charlatan investor from the cryptocurrency world backfired spectacularly and references to the London Football Exchange are still brought up regularly as a point of ridicule.

However, Sage has also shown ambition and should be praised for going all in to acquire Sturridge. A 2019 play to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Perth on a guest deal failed to materialise but this time, the mining magnate has gotten his man.

“Daniel is undoubtedly one of the biggest signings not only in Glory’s history, but in the history of the A-League,” he said.

“His arrival signals in no uncertain terms how determined we are to bring sustained success to the club and the lengths we will go to in order to achieve that goal.”

Sage has poured millions into Glory since becoming the sole owner in 2009, stating as recently as July that he sold his house to cover the losses that the club incurs.

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According to Glory’s Chief Executive Officer Tony Pignata, the deal took ten days to complete once contact was made with Sturridge’s agent, his uncle Dean who will be well known to Premier League followers for his time at Derby County. Another new Glory recruit, Brad Jones, was a teammate of Daniel’s at Liverpool and played a big part in helping the club jump up the pecking order in the race to sign him.

“We’re not talking about a guy that’s past his prime,” Jones told the official A-Leagues website.

“We’re talking about a guy that is 32, who is hungry because of the position he’s been in recently, and he wants to play. He wants to score goals, and having someone with all those attributes is going to be massive.

“Getting him in now is a coup. You’re not getting a guy that maybe doesn’t have the hunger, you’re getting a massive name for the right reasons, someone that’s looking to contribute.”

Ex-Glory striker and Premier League icon Robbie Fowler also endorsed the move when consulted.

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“When the opportunity came about, it felt like the right thing to do, to take my talent somewhere where I can enjoy my football in a competitive league and try and help the team be as successful as they possibly can be,” said Sturridge.

“I’m going to put my best foot forward, work hard and try and help the team win each game that comes by and then we’ll see where we end up when the season finishes.”

The City of Perth has been riding the crest of a wave in sporting terms, with a sold-out AFL Grand Final at Optus Stadium taking place on the back of two big crowds at finals series games. Perth Glory have one home game in the first six rounds of an already delayed A-League Men’s season and a drawcard like Sturridge will no doubt appeal to the event going public and casual football fans. A crowd of 16,019 turned out for Fowler’s first game in purple back in 2009 and Glory will be confident that the season opener against Adelaide United on November 20 can do similar numbers (if Sturridge is good to go by then).

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Where does Sturridge fit into the team? Well, Diego Castro’s time in Perth has come to an end after six seasons of brilliance. The Spaniard is out of contract and took some time during the offseason to consider his future with Glory keen to bring him back for another year. However, the 39-year-old failed to commit, and the club have moved in a new direction. While not a like-for-like replacement on the park, the reality is Sturridge will bring more eyeballs to Glory than Castro ever did.

The concern is that Glory are too top heavy, with Sturridge, fellow new signing Adrian Sardinero, Bruno Fornaroli, Andy Keogh and young gun Ciaran Bramwell all capable of leading the line. Behind them, Brandon O’Neill is an excellent pick up to anchor the middle of the park and the Perth native has been touted to become the new club captain.

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However, the rest of the midfield options are limited to youngster or league journeymen and there is a concern that O’Neill will simply have to do too much. At the back, Darryl Lachman returns after a strong first season at the club and Keisuke Ota oozed class once he settled into the side. Jones, meanwhile, is a strong first choice goalkeeper ahead of another reliable veteran, Liam Reddy.

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Again, genuine quality is an issue. Jonathan Aspropotamitis was hit and miss last season while Aaron Calver, Jack Clisby and Antonee Burke-Gilroy can’t be considered an upgrade on Jason Geria who left the club in the offseason following the conclusion of his short-term deal. Glory conceded 44 goals in their 26 games last season and it’s hard to argue that they have adequately improved their defensive stocks.

Would Glory have been better off bringing in somebody to do the dirty work in midfield, or shore up the backline? Maybe, but you simply don’t turn down the chance to pick up a player who scored 68 goals for Liverpool, played and scored at both the World Cup and European Championships, and has only just turned 32. And, rightly or wrongly, the social media reach of someone who has 3.5 million followers on Instagram is also a factor. With a new TV deal in its first year, the A-Leagues need to become an attractive prospect for more than dyed in the wool football fans in this country.

The lure of the Perth lifestyle no doubt appeals to Sturridge who will be bringing a young family with him, and he has spoken about what he wants to achieve on arrival.

“It really is about the culture and embracing it, becoming part of it, because whenever you travel outside your country for English players it’s not a normal thing to leave England really,” he said.

“For myself, I really want to get to know people out there. I want to experience what the locals experience and just really feel like I’m part of the family in the city and part of the club’s family and for us to all be together as one to reach the ultimate goal of success.”

Expectations are high, and the move has been touted as one of the best by an Australian club before a ball has even been kicked. Glory know better than anyone that football isn’t played on paper following William Gallas’ underwhelming spell at the club for the 2013/14 season but they will be quietly confident that Sturridge can deliver in spades.

Having missed finals last season, expectations will be higher this time round. While some will see this as nothing more than a “sugar hit” for the competition, that’s okay because everybody needs a treat in their diet.

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Feature Image Credit: Kevin Walsh

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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