England may be without talisman Wayne Rooney for their opening two fixtures at UEFA EURO 2012 but leading a queue of strikers who hope to replace the Manchester United forward is Daniel Sturridge.
The 22-year-old has seen both his club and national manager, Andre Villas-Boas and Fabio Capello respectively, depart in the last month but that dual upheaval cannot take the shine off a breakthrough season which could conclude with a trip to Poland and Ukraine.
Finally enjoying his first extended run in the Blues’ starting XI since he joined from Manchester City in 2009, Sturridge told FIFA.com he is happy to be versatile if it means he can play. “I think I’ve grown up a lot since moving to Chelsea and have gained experience and self-belief as a result,” the striker explained.
“I’m playing in a different position from the start of my career, though I still see myself as a striker, but I’m doing a job for the team and enjoying starting more games, which is what matters most, and if I can represent my country in any position, I’ll be delighted to do so.”
Ambitions for club and country
Largely deployed in a wide role under Villas-Boas, the Birmingham-born player has been one of the positives of a disappointing season at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea currently sit fifth in the Premier League table and are in danger of missing out on UEFA Champions League qualification for next year, while their participation in this season’s edition hangs by a thread as they need to overturn a 3-1 deficit during their second leg with Napoli tonight.
Sturridge can take personal pride from his performances, though, having scored 11 goals in all competitions for the Blues and broken onto the international scene with England. While his primary focus is on salvaging something from Chelsea’s campaign, thoughts of EURO 2012 are at the back of his mind. “I’m aiming to finish in the top four with Chelsea and to win the Champions League and FA Cup, and if I can get myself on the plane after that, it’ll be a dream come true,” said the No23.
I’m aiming to finish in the top four with Chelsea and to win the Champions League and FA Cup, and if I can get myself on the plane after that, it’ll be a dream come true.
“I think everyone feels they have a chance. There are three months to make sure you work as hard as you can at your own club and take that form into the summer. I hope to perform well, stay injury free, and take my opportunities when they come.”
He certainly made the most of a recent chance to impress, earning himself the man of the match award after coming on as a substitute during England’s 3-2 friendly defeat at home to the Netherlands. “It was a surprise to receive the award as I was off the pitch having treatment at the time. Although we didn’t get the result we wanted, the young players gave their all and gained some valuable experience.”
Experience is not only coming from playing in major matches for Chelsea and England but also on a daily basis in training according to Sturridge. “I play against the best left-back in the world every day in training, so I think playing against anyone else can’t be as challenging as facing Ashley Cole, which gives me the confidence to face any left-back.”
Praise for Pearce
While it was Capello who handed Sturridge his maiden cap last November against Sweden, the striker’s second appearance for the Three Lions came under a man he knows very well, Stuart Pearce. The two worked together while both were at City and it was the latter who gave the former his first break in English football.
The youngster’s respect for Pearce cannot be missed. “He’s a great man and has done a lot for me. He gave me my first appearance for Manchester City when I was 17, taught me about the physical side of the game in training with the odd kick, and has helped me develop from the beginning of my career right through to the present. He showed a lot of belief with me at U-21 level last summer and I can’t thank him enough for the influence he’s had on my career.”
With the FA yet to appoint a successor to Capello, Pearce himself has offered his services for EURO 2012 but insisted he is not ready to lead England on a permanent basis beyond the tournament. Sturridge, on the other hand, offered his full support for the former international full-back. “I hope he gets the opportunity to become the next England manager and take the squad to EURO 2012,” he concluded.