Five years after making his Premier League debut (for Manchester City in 2007), Sturridge has established himself as one of the league’s brightest young talents. His next career move will be pivotal — defining even — because it will encompass what should be his peak years: ages 24-29.
Sturridge will be a free agent at the end of next season, and reports say he could leave the Blues for Arsenal or Manchester City as soon as this summer.
Reports say the 22-year-old is not thrilled about being played out wide by manager Andre Villas-Boas instead of in his preferred central role. He also wants a pay raise to reflect his status as both a first team regular and an England international. Sturridge denies the reports, insisting he is fully committed to Chelsea.
“To play at one of the best clubs in the world and start every week is a dream come true,” he told Sky Sports. “I love playing for Chelsea. Some of the stuff I’ve read about me asking for a contract is not true.
“I’ve not spoken to the club to ask for a new contract, or told them I’m unhappy. I’m just doing a job. Working hard. I’m not worrying about my contract. It’s not true. I’m committed to Chelsea.”
His public comments are those of a player that is in demand. He’s saying all the right things, making sure he doesn’t make any new waves in an already turbulent setting. But the young man will have some choices to make, and he must take two factors into account in order choose wisely.
Landing at a club that will play in the UEFA Champions League every season is key to his continued development. His play in England’s top-flight earned him his first two England caps. He must compete against the best of the best in order to continue his progression and cement his place on the national team.
The second factor is that he must go to (or stay with) a club where he will play week in and week out. Sturridge has blossomed as a full-time starter, and he has a goal tally (17 in the Premier League since the start of 2011) to prove it. Most goal scorers need a run of games to hit their stride and Sturridge is no different.
Should he follow the riches Manchester City could offer, he’ll be in a bind. The league leader will be in the Champions League for the foreseeable future, but it’s unlikely that he would play every week. Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko would stand in his way.
Arsenal would be an attractive destination on both fronts, but the Gunners may not be able (or willing) to meet Chelsea’s asking price. There’s also no guarantee that Arsene Wenger‘s team will maintain its standing near the top of the English game for too much longer.
The same goes for Chelsea, although its situation is more urgent than Arsenal’s. A new manager could take over at any moment, bringing his own ideas and players in tow. Sturridge could find himself relegated to the bench under a new regime. Missing out on next season’s Champions League is a very real possibility, so decision-day for the Blues’ hitman.
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Photo via Flickr/Mozzer