Since leaving Manchester City in 2009, Daniel Sturridge's career hasn't always enjoyed an upward trajectory, but the Liverpool striker faces his former club this Sunday in the best form of his life.
With four years at Chelsea sandwiched between spells at the Etihad Stadium and Anfield, Sturridge hasn't forgotten those lessons learned on the path to his current, prolific success, per Mike Walters of The Mirror:
It was difficult for me at Manchester City as a young player aged 18 or 19, with all the money they have. Realistically, you look back and they only have Micah Richards from the academy playing for the club's first team—everyone else has been signed by Man City, so I feel I made the right decision leaving there.
At first, it was a matter of learning from the likes of Didier [Drogba], and I thought I would get my opportunity sooner, but they didn't believe in me as a centre-forward. They always said, 'You're not a centre-forward, you're a winger'—that's how they saw me, but that hurt me because I've played down the middle all my life.
Following such a bright start to his career at City, the way seemed paved for Sturridge to achieve great things following his free transfer to Chelsea in 2009—although City did receive payment via tribunal due to the forward's age at the time.
If Liverpool beat City on Sunday, they need only win their remaining four fixtures to win what would be their first Premier League trophy for the club.
Even after all the setbacks of being played out of position and struggling to make the team at all, Sturridge has assuredly come out as a stronger character, responding to those obstacles in a resolute fashion:
The pitch has always been where I've been able to express myself the most, where I feel happiest, and I was deprived of that opportunity at Chelsea. There were times when I was sat at home, very upset, and I fell out of love with the game. In every job, you want to be able to do what you love, and it's the hardest thing to accept when someone takes it away from you.
I was scared, I wasn't sure about the future and I'm thankful to God that I had my family behind me. In the end, I was so happy that I was able to go on loan to Bolton and prove to myself, 'I can still do this.' It's difficult when you are not playing for so long. Young players do get wrapped up when they are at a big club and they are not playing, so it's been a whirlwind 15 months since I joined Liverpool.
Sturridge took little time in becoming an Anfield hit, and the 24-year-old has already scored 20 goals this Premier League season, per Transfermarkt, the first time in his career that he's reached the "magic mark."
Squawka shows precisely how a decent portion of those goals have been scored since the turn of the year:
Steven Gerrard has scored 10 EPL goals in 2014, Daniel Sturridge (11) is the only player to have scored more since the turn of the year.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 6, 2014
The striker has swiftly built up a close relationship with the city, it seems, recently surprising the children of a local Merseyside school with an impromptu appearance:
Of course it's helped that he's been partnered up alongside Luis Suarez in his new Merseyside base, but the England international did a fine job of holding the Reds' line while the Uruguayan was suspended for the first five matches of the 2013-14 league campaign.
As OptaJoe points out, the scoring form of this duo has been essential to the club's meteoric rise back to Premier League prominence:
1 - Today is the first time Liverpool have won a PL game this season when neither Suarez nor Sturridge has scored. Spread.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 6, 2014
Sturridge has shown that, given the responsibility, he can be a star in his own right, something that was denied of him at City and Chelsea due to the other attacking options that their respective riches had brought in.
However, Liverpool aren't quite as characteristically frivolous with their transfer spending, and one can now envision Sturridge cementing his status as a Kop favourite, bringing an end to the uncertain club-hopping he's experienced early in his playing career.