Daniel Sturridge ticks all the boxes for an A-League Men’s marquee. There’s the name recognition and top-tier reputation that will attract cameras and coverage to Perth Glory events, while the ability to slap “former Liverpool star” or “Champions League winner” in a headline will draw in gatekeepers outside the football bubble. At a time of great promise, but also great risk, Sturridge will be positioned as a Pied Piper for the lapsed, casual, FIFA, or ‘Eurosnob’ fan: luring them through the turnstiles and towards new broadcast partner Paramount+.
Sturridge has serious pedigree. He is a former Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League winner with Chelsea and Liverpool, and represented England at a World Cup and European Championship. At Anfield, he formed a successful strike partnership with Luis Suárez and finished second in the Golden Boot to his Uruguayan teammate in the 2013–14 season.
Moreover, in the age of the celebrity footballer he’s prolific across social media – a focus for the leagues. He has 3.4 million followers on Instagram and 2.3 million on Twitter. His signature dancing celebration is perfect for viral memes and gifs, and he even has a handy how-to guide on his own slickly produced YouTube channel.
Yet, inconvenient as it may be to his ambassadorial duties, he’s also going to have to actually play football at some point. And while it may seem ludicrous to suggest, given the disparity in quality between where he’s played and the A-Leagues, that is where the biggest questions with Sturridge lie.
Assuming he stays fit and is truly committed, he should thrive, dominate even. This is a man that has scored 76 Premier League goals and as recently as three years ago was being described as “arguably England’s most naturally gifted striker”. The defensive attention that his reputation demands will create further opportunities elsewhere for Glory’s already potent Bruno Fornaroli-led strikeforce. Even at 32 he’s going to bring down the average age of the starting XI with his arrival ending the tenure of 39-year-old, former Johnny Warren medalist Diego Castro.
But with the A-League’s summer staging harbouring baking conditions and hardened surfaces, and a frantic pace and rugged physicality being the default state of most matches, the transition is a deceptive one. Even discounting his extensive injury history, Sturridge would hardly be the first foreigner to be ambushed by the challenges of settling Down Under. Compounding the adjustment, he hasn’t played football since leaving Turkish side Trabzonspor in March 2020 after receiving a four-month, worldwide ban for breaching betting rules and will need to undergo two-weeks of hotel quarantine before he can join his new teammates in training, denying him an extended run on the track before their season commences.
One can see how it has the potential to either go very well or go very pear-shaped. Which is fitting, as his presence carries similar boom or bust connotations for the league; especially given the framing of his arrival.
Undoubtedly he will pique the interest of the masses, but a significant proportion of them will invariably be of the fairweather, theatre-going variety. To induce them to stick around, it’s incumbent upon both Sturridge and the APL to pull their weight.
That Sturridge, at this stage in his career, has been touted as one of the biggest marquees in A-League Men’s history before kicking a ball in anger gives a metaphysical insight into the mindset surrounding the competition. The commercial justifications are sound, yet they have also prevented the likes of Besart Berisha, Miloš Ninković or Thomas Broich from being considered for such a title – even if their contributions, retroactively, are intrinsically tied to numerous titles and rusted on fans (ostensibly the entire point of this entire endeavour).
In effect, it betrays the fragility those following the league know it still possesses. While recent administrative reforms augur hope for the future, these are structural moves that take time to take effect. Sturridge’s arrival, conversely, is a sugar hit, and while it rightfully comes with a health warning, it is also a useful tide over as the search for a healthier, long-term lifestyle continues.
Sturridge’s arrival at HBF Park has already been labelled the second biggest signing in the history of the competition, behind only Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero’s arrival at Sydney FC in its noteworthiness. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than how far the competition rose after Del Piero’s arrival was how quickly rot set in after he left.