Things start earlier now that we live in the future. And for things, read shopping. The Boxing Day sales now begin two or three days before Santa's birthday. Black Friday has begun edging forward into Thanksgiving itself. And the transfer window -- like Christmas, a hideously compelling spectacle of orgiastic waste, panicked purchasing, and furious regret; like Christmas, best enjoyed in the company of a number of bottles of ginger wine -- begins before it actually begins.
Take Brendan Rodgers. (No, go on ...) He's opened the big red parcel under the tree -- 'Love from JWH and all the gang in Boston' -- and found a £12m voucher for exclusive west London boutique Roman's Used Player Exchange. Being a meticulous man of planning and dossiers, Rodgers knows what he'll be getting: one Daniel Sturridge, lightly raced.
(Tom Ince was probably in his stocking or something. I don't know. Look, Christmas intros are hard work.)
Liverpool, of course, are in dire need of a forward, having only Luis Suárez and a crocked Fabio Borini as options atop. With progressive rock supergroup The Jonjo Shelvey False-Nine Experiment failing to convince, and Andy Carroll exiled to St. Allardyce's Remedial School for Unrepentantly Large Men, there's an attacking burden in need of sharing. Though Sturridge isn't an out-and-out striker -- which is just as well, as apparently they're goVANPERSIEing out of fasFALCAOhion anyCAVANIway -- he's a good tactical fit for Rodgers's system and that "seven-and-three-fifths" role . More generally he's quick, strong in a lean, whippety kind of way, and hard of shot, all of which are traditionally nice attributes to have.
All that said, though, Sturridge is at something of a crossroads. His time at Chelsea has doubtless paid off financially -- the move was precipitated by Manchester City's refusal to pay him the wages he felt he deserved -- and he's become a full England international along the way, but it's hard to see his departure as anything other than a concession that either the move wasn't ideal, or he hasn't achieved what he was hoping or intending to. For all that Chelsea have been a hot mess at times, they've amassed a fair weight of silver during the years he's been around. Yet his role has been on the whole peripheral.
And he's 23. In footballing career terms, 23 (or thereabouts) marks the beginning of being a proper grown-up. It's still relatively young, of course, and in theory the best years still lie ahead, but it's old enough that youth is no longer taken into account when a shot slices hopelessly wide, when a simple pass goes overlooked, when a hopeful drive limps weakly into the keeper's arms. People stop looking at potential -- an intrinsically sympathetic and hopeful business -- and start looking for product, and when it comes to productivity, Sturridge has definitely shown potential.
There's one final wrinkle. Along with his inconsistency, and his moments, Sturridge has also shown -- not to put too fine a point on it -- that he's a bit of a berk. Exhibit the most-recent:
Now reflect that this was not inspired by a delirious freestyle through four defenders, or a forty-five yard Exocet that left the keeper gazing blankly at a smoking stump, but instead the tucking away of a weak backpass by an 18-year-old making his second start; reflect further that Sturridge had spent the previous 97 minutes looking a risible waste of both money and space. Now watch it again -- state of that backwards strut at the end -- and try not to set your loved ones on fire.
Of course, berks are plentiful, and doubtless there are plenty more egregious and annoying. But being a bit of a plank drains sympathy and trims honeymoons. Self-belief is all well and good, and cockiness can be admirable, but it can also be wearing. And while the opinions of fans of other clubs are more-or-less irrelevant, Sturridge, one suspects, is hard to love even if it's your shirt he's wearing. Every poor decision (of which there have been plenty) and every overlooked passing option (ditto) is amplified by the general aura of asshattery (a phenomenon known to medicine as Ashleyoungitis).
All this makes it a fascinating transfer. For Sturridge, it's a step back to go forward, a chance -- perhaps the last chance -- to assert himself as the player he was meant to become when he rode a wave of contract negotiations down to London. You can sort-of see how it's supposed to work in theory, and how he might fit the team, and yet you can also see plenty of ways in which it ends with Sturridge as frustrated as he has been frustrating, as unloved as unfulfilled, and his talent, like so many of his forward runs, having fallen into that gap between what could and should happen, and what actually does.
For Liverpool, meanwhile, it's a sizeable outlay (factoring in what will doubtless be significant wages) on a player whose credentials remain at best part-theoretical; for Rodgers, as noted in the earlier link, it's a commitment to his specific methods. Sturridge isn't the best player available, and nor is he the cheapest, and that means there's a lot riding on his being the correct player. For the last couple of years, Liverpool's transfer dealings have been somewhere between patchy and rancid, and so there's a lot of pressure on the club, and on the peculiarly ineffective hierarchy, to start getting things right. The transfers that see inconsistent players chime with inconsistent teams, each solving the problems of the other, are among the best. They're also among the riskiest.