He’s currently the top scorer in the English Premier League and being heralded as the England national team’s answer to ending a near 50-year wait for a trophy, so you would expect Liverpool soccer star Daniel Sturridge to be reveling in his current state of success. Yet, the truth is that the 24-year old striker isn’t letting himself get carried away with all of the hype. Following the old sporting adage of taking one day at a time, the Birmingham-born footballer is a study of concentration on achieving his goals. In the run up to the World Cup in Brazil next summer, Life+Times continues its series of interviews with some of soccer’s rising stars, as we speak to the ex-Chelsea and Manchester City player to find out why he’s just so damn focused. [Additional reporting by Rajveer Kathwadia]
Life+Times: With your move to Liverpool at the beginning of the year, your good run of form and the World Cup in Brazil at the end of the year, things are shaping up quite nicely for you aren’t they?
Daniel Sturridge: Yeah!. For me, I just take everything in my stride. I don’t get excited too much, because I’ve realised that things can change quickly. You have ups and downs, but I am starting to learn to enjoy the good moments a little bit more now, whereas before I would just see it as doing my job. I’m enjoying playing and I’m enjoying the success, but I don’t get too carried away.
L+T: What’s the move to Liverpool been like for you?
DS: It’s been amazing to be a part of it. It’s like a family, the way the vibe is at the club. Even the city — everybody’s into football and you’ve got the Liverpool and Everton fans in the streets giving you banter. It’s not intense, but there’s a strong desire for success and everybody wants to help Liverpool get back to the winning ways that they had in the past and that’s up to us. Everybody wants to have success. It’s not about getting by and being content with second or third. It’s about having a winning mentality and that’s something the manager’s instilled in us now where everybody’s got that feeling to want to win every game.
L+T: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers himself has played down the team’s chances of winning the English Premier League and insisted that a top six finish is the aim. What do you make of that?
DS: I agree. I just think that there’s always going to be expectations from people on the outside who look and see the good start we’ve had, but I guess that we’ve just got to focus on our job and not worry about what everyone else is doing or saying and see where we are at the end of the season.
L+T: Do you think the weight of past successes hinders the team?
DS: I don’t think it does at all. The past is the past, so you don’t really look over your shoulder too much. Going back two years, I won the Champions League with Chelsea, but that’s in the past now. You look back and that’s a memory, but you spend more time looking forward to the future and what the new season might bring.
L+T: Your partnership with fellow Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is looking very promising, isn’t it?
DS: Yeah, it’s cool man. He’s a nice guy and we have great chemistry on the field, and we get on well off of it so it’s good. It’s easier when you’ve got somebody like Luis who can help you share the goals out and we’ve also got the likes of Steven Gerrard and Victor Moses who can pitch in. So there’s goals throughout the team. Hopefully we can continue with the form we’ve got at the moment.
L+T: The worst thing that can happen to someone who’s in good form is an injury, but as a versatile player, do you find yourself looking to make sure the wingers are ok as well in case you get called out to do a shift for them?
DS: You get killed by your versatility, don’t you? [Laughs] I think for me, I’m happy to play in any position I get asked to play in. I can’t change my mentality if I get played in a different position, I’ve just got to carry on doing what I do, whether I’m playing up front or at full back.
L+T: There’s a lot of excitement amongst England fans about the prospect of you playing regularly for the national team. Are you excited about what you could possibly achieve with the Three Lions on your shirt?
DS: I just try to do my own thing. I don’t pay attention to what’s going on around me, because then I’ll put pressure on myself and I probably won’t perform as well as I can do. I just work my arse off on the training field and hope for the best.
L+T: How frustrating was it to miss the last two England matches?
DS: So frustrating. The worst thing was that there was an article on the Liverpool website which they posted out featuring comments I’d made a week prior, so it was taken out of context and the fans had a perception of me that I cared more about my club than my country. But the reason I’d said that was because the games you play for your club are the groundwork for becoming an England regular, and if I don’t play for Liverpool, I won’t get selected for England and not the other way around. And that was the most frustrating part for me because the fans didn’t understand how much it meant to me to play for England. I’ve not had the opportunity that a lot of other players have had in the past, so for me, it’s my time to do what I can do, so it was heartbreaking for me not to be involved. Especially as it could have affected my place in the two games this week, because they’re so important and the ones that are going to get us to the World Cup.
L+T: Do you feel settled in the England squad now?
DS: Yeah I do. In the early days when I wasn’t playing week in and week out for my club I felt a bit on the fringe of things, whereas now I feel like I deserve my place and I’m settled in the team and I get on with everybody.
L+T: It doesn’t get much bigger than a World Cup in Brazil, does it?
DS: No, it doesn’t. There’s going to be some samba going on, isn’t there!? [Laughs]. Obviously, it’s going to be a good vibe. Hopefully we’ll have some success. Everybody wants success. I’m not going to lie and say that isn’t the aim, but it’s going to be difficult. For now, I just have to concentrate on first helping us get there and then being on that plane. That’s the most important thing.
L+T: Do you think Brazil’s ties to football make it even more exciting?
DS: Yeah I think it just makes it seem more glamorous. I don’t know what it is about Brazil, but everybody links them to football. The vibe, the music and the fans and the drums in the crowd — it’s just like a carnival atmosphere and I think that because there hasn’t been a World Cup in Brazil for such a long time, everybody’s excited to be a part of that. Especially for me. I’m honored that it’s happening during my generation and hopefully I can be there and experience everything that’s going on. It’s going to be wild. Not just for the players, but for the fans as well. I won’t get to enjoy the parties going on and the caipirinhas, but I’ll be watching from afar.
L+T: Unless you win?
DS: I’m not even going to look too far ahead. Hopefully, I’m there. As long as I’m there, I’m happy.
L+T: Have you got any standout World Cup memories from when you were growing up?
DS: Yeah, that Michael Owen goal for England against Argentina at the World Cup in France in 1998. That was one that I think stands out in every England fan’s memory, just because that was when I was a kid growing up and seeing him do that and score, it just made you think, ‘Wow, what have I just seen?’ I’ve got good memories of seeing the Brazilian Ronaldo play as well and the goals he scored. I’ve always watched Brazilians closely and always admired the way they played, but he was one I really loved to watch. Also the French team with Thierry Henry and [Zinedine] Zidane — I always loved to watch them play as well.
L+T: Are there any young players who you think will really announce themselves at the World Cup?
DS: There’s a few who’ll have a chance to show the World what they’re capable of — it’s a global stage after all. Every player has the opportunity to stake their claim as one of the world’s best players. The World Cup allows people to become things. Someone will become a hero. Someone will inevitably become a villain. David Beckham’s testament to that in the sense that he’s been both. That ‘s football and there are highs and lows.
L+T: Talking about opportunities, you missed out on a place in the national squad at the European Championships in 2012, but that then in turn gave you the opportunity to take part in the London 2012 Olympic Games representing Team GB. What was that like?
DS: At first, it was devastating because I desperately wanted to go to the Euros, and I’d played out of position that season on the wing, so it was one of those situations, but then the Olympics were there and it helped. It helped heal the pain of not going to the Euros, but then I got meningitis and I was like, ‘What is going on here?’ Eventually, when I went to the Olympics, fate has it that I missed the penalty and we went out so… [Laughs] It was one bad thing after another, but those things happen sometimes. I’ve had so many instances in my past that make me realize that so many things have gone on and everything that happens now, it seems like it happens so fast, whereas all of the bad stuff felt like it went on for ages. I always dwell on the bad stuff though, but I’m thankful for it because it’s contributed to the good things that are happening now.
L+T: It’s funny that you mention dwelling on the bad stuff, because we’ve asked you about this wonderful experience of being at the Olympics and you’ve only mentioned the penalty miss.
DS: [Laughs] I know, it’s crazy. I’m very hard on myself.
L+T: And not many people get the opportunity to represent Great Britain in football at the Olympics.
DS: That’s one thing that I’m upset about, because I’d love to do it again. But I’d love to be in the [Olympic] village this time, because last time we didn’t get to have the experience of staying there and mingling with the other athletes. Maybe it’s because football’s seen as being a bit more glamorous — which I don’t like because we’re the same as any other athlete — but I feel that we should be together with the shot-putters and the sprinters and the badminton players. There isn’t a Team GB football team because of the politics of it all and that’s not cool.
L+T: You mentioned football as being seen as glamorous, and there’s talk of players being overpaid, etc. How do you feel it compares to other sports in that sense?
DS: I think that other people in other sports probably do more than what footballers do and they probably train harder and put themselves through more. Obviously with certain individual sports, the performance is down to that one person to be the best they can be, and in team sports you can have a bad day but get let off the hook. So I do look at other sports as equal, because we go through the exact same trials and tribulations regardless of how much more money I make. It doesn’t give me a higher status or make me any better because I get more press. I wish I could have shared those experiences with the other athletes, because it was my moment to be an Olympian — I didn’t want to feel like a footballer. We were part of a bigger thing that was Team GB.
L+T: Do you have any mentors in the game at all?
DS: I would say [Steven] Gerrard’s one player, because he’s a great man on and off the field. He’s one of the people who gets on with everybody and he’s an incredible man to be honest with you. Since I’ve been there, he’s taken care of me and helped me out a lot in terms of settling into the club, settling into the city and it’s great to have him around. He’s been one of the world’s best players for many years and I’ve got so much respect for him.
L+T: Do you have any heroes outside of football?
DS: Before a game recently I was watching a documentary about Venus and Serena Williams and it was amazing. It was strange to get an inside look into what they’ve been through because I didn’t know their history. I didn’t know about all of the injuries and the fact that they came from Compton and the vision that their dad had to help them better themselves, so for me, that was an unbelievable success story for anyone to look up to and say, ‘Wow, that’s special.’ I also have musical heroes, like pioneers like Diddy and JAY Z. They’re successful in so many ways and in so many avenues in the way they’ve broadened their horizons. Kanye West is an innovator in how people look at rappers in terms of fashion. He paved the way for guys like A$AP Rocky and Big Sean.
L+T: A lot of your heroes are from the US. Can you see yourself ever playing in the MLS in the future?
DS: Yeah definitely. I think towards the end of my career, that’s somewhere where I’d like to give it a go, because culturally, I really like the way it is over there. I love going on holiday there — the vibe, the energy, the music, the will to be successful, and the food. I love it.
L+T: Do you have any aspirations of your own outside of football that you’d like to pursue?
DS: Yeah I do. I think being a footballer, you don’t want to lose your focus or create an excuse for people to attack you. Football is my job, but afterwards I do want to look at either fashion or music. I do currently produce some music with one of my friends and I’ve also got a friend in Birmingham who’s a fashion designer, so I’ll tell him to make or personalize some clothes in certain ways for me. I like to design my own stuff if I can, but he’s the only one I would go to for that.
L+T: What can you tell us about the music production?
DS: It’s a range of styles. I can rap. I can sing a little bit. My cousins rap really well. I wouldn’t say I’m going to be anything; I’m just going to say that I can do a little bit.
L+T: We might have to get you to freestyle.
DS: Naaaah! [Laughs]. I probably could do it, but I know what people would say. I’m just going to stay in my lane and that’s football. John Barnes rapped and Andy Cole rapped, but in this social media age, is that kind of thing acceptable? I don’t know. But if we do this again, then maybe I will freestyle. Or I might bring you a song. I felt uncomfortable telling you that, but I thought I’d be open. [Laughs]. If I ever released anything, it would have to be under an alias.
L+T: What sort of music are you into?
DS: I love my hip hop. I love Drake’s album, J. Cole’s album, JAY Z’s album… Kendrick [Lamar]’s album as well. Big Sean’s album was good, but it wasn’t as good as the others. I love a range of music. I love The Weeknd and how he’s so different and brought almost a new genre to the table. I love Frank Ocean’s music and PARTYNEXTDOOR. I love soul music.
L+T: Do you look after the music in the changing room?
DS: It’s too much stress for me having to look after the music and making sure that everybody’s vibe’s right. Mainly house gets played, but I listen to whatever’s on my headphones. At the moment it’s “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” and the Drake song “Worst Behavior.”
L+T: We’ve also just found out you can cook. Do you have a signature dish?
DS: Yeah. I’m not like amazing, but I can cook. I haven’t got a signature dish. I don’t think you should have one, should you? I kind of find that if you’ve got a signature dish, [then] you’re doing that thing too much. You need to switch it up.
L+T: Is there a special cuisine though?
DS: Caribbean of course! Because of my mum. I can do jerk chicken and all that, but to be fair I love fried chicken. I need to not do that anymore. I’m actually opening a new restaurant in Birmingham soon. I will cook there one day. My mum’s also got a new sauce coming out as well. She’s got a jerk sauce and a sweet sauce. I’ll make sure to let you know when they’re out.
L+T: Do you need to be on a special diet?
DS: No, not really. They do like you to have one, but it depends on who you are as a person, because a lot of people can eat near enough anything and they don’t gain weight and other people gain weight easily. For me, I’m alright, like I don’t have a diet, but I do look after myself. I don’t like fast food, so I don’t really deal with McDonald’s and all that.
L+T: We know you’re into your fashion as well.
DS: Yeah I wouldn’t say I love fashion, but I am really interested in it and I do go shopping maybe a bit too much.
L+T: Which brands do you like?
DS: Designer-wise, I like Rick Owens for the drape kind of look. I like Silent Damir Doma. I went to Acne today, I love the jackets in there. Jeans-wise I like DSQUARED² just because they’re tapered and my legs are quite big, so I can’t have them too tight. My dad loves his clothing as well. I kind of see myself in him in the way he dresses and puts himself together. He’s got a young dress sense and my mum’s kind of the same. She’s got a good vibe.
L+T: It seems like you’re very close with your family?
DS: Yeah, we’re very close-knit. I’ve always been that way from when I was young. I like to keep my family around me. I always have. I don’t know if it’s a guard, but they’ve always been there.
L+T: Your dad and two of your uncles were professional footballers as well, so do they ever give you any advice with how to deal with certain situations?
DS: Yeah, to be honest I’ve never been able to get above myself, because they keep me grounded. They’ve been there and they know everything about the game. They’ve helped me so much. I’ve had instances where I’ve been down and they’ve given me advice with how to deal with what I’m going through. Even the times when things are going well, they’ve told me to embrace it and be happy with what I’ve achieved, because I find it difficult to be happy with what I’ve done. They also like to help me improve my game. Even though I work with the coaches a lot, their opinion is still one that I really and truly respect. Also, my cousin and my brother live with me in Liverpool and they make sure that I’m looking after myself. I don’t really go out to be honest. I’ve been out maybe two or three times in the last 10 months since I’ve been there — I just keep myself in my house, keep focused and I think that’s the way that I have to be. But when I come to London, I enjoy myself, but I don’t really come to London enough to go out a lot. I think it’s just about remaining focused on the job, because the partying and all of that will still be around for a long time.
L+T: You seem to be quite religious also?
DS: Yeah I’m religious and I like to pray a lot and that’s my thing. I think everyone’s kind of entitled to do as they see fit and I’m not like a born again Christian or anything like that, but I’ve got my personal relationship with God. I always pray before a game.
L+T: Alongside that, do you have any ‘silly’ rituals or anything before a game?
DS: Nah. The only reason that I don’t is if I put the right sock on before the left and then I score, then I have to keep doing it. If I forget one day, it could play on my mind, so I hate getting into that mode. I find myself slipping into it a little bit and I have to jerk myself out of it instantly.
L+T: Football fans are so intense, do you feel like they’re ready to turn on you the moment something goes wrong?
DS: Yeah the fans are intense, but I feel like everyone’s entitled to their opinion Whether it’s about music, fashion or even food — whether it’s good or bad, you’re allowed to have a view and it’s the same with football. ‘Do you like the team? Do you like the manager? Do you like the players? Whose fans are the best?’ There’s always a debate and there’s never a definitive answer and you have to accept that.
L+T: Do you ever log-on to your social networks after a game to see what sort of response you’ve got?
DS: No, I don’t. I’ve not been on Twitter like that. I had a little dabble and I enjoyed it, but I can’t be on there too much, because it does take a lot of your time and it does take a very strong-hearted person to not react to some of the stuff people say on there. I think that there’s no need for confrontation and you’ve just got to take a step back and realize that you don’t know that person anyway.
L+T: People must come up to you all of the time with their opinions, though?
DS: Yeah you get people with a bit of banter, but sometimes you get the opposing fans saying good things about you and you’re taken aback and it’s a nice surprise. I’ve not really had a really bad incident yet, but I think maybe it’s because my brother’s next to me at all times and he looks a bit mean!
L+T: There was a rumor that the dance you sometimes do when you celebrate was included on FIFA ’14?
DS: Yeah it’s in there. It’s called “Ride The Wave,” but they didn’t make it my dance in the game. But it if I’m really honest, it’s not actually that good of a dance. I was at my apartment in London and listening to music and messing about with my cousins and I ended up doing this move. And I don’t know why but it just stuck. It’s an inside joke that’s just got out for everybody to see.
L+T: Do you feel like you have to do it for every goal now?
DS: The fans expect it a little bit.
L+T: Are you going to have a new one for Brazil?
DS: Yeah I’ve got to mix it up a bit, I’ve got to come with something new. But I saw this 17 year-old Portuguese national player doing it and I found that quite cool. When I was his age, I was probably doing some celebration that I’d seen someone do on TV and now I’m that guy, so it’s strange to see how time’s changed.
L+T: Finally how would you describe your mindset right now?
DS: I’d say that my mindset right now is determined and driven. Focused and hungry. My lifestyle is focused on football and that’s the way I guess I’ll be until I retire. But there’s always time for love and crushes — I’m single, aren’t I? I wouldn’t say no to Rihanna.