Author’s Note: This was written mid-week for The Mirror, but something happened in transit and it didn’t get used. Thus I am publishing it here even though the stats for this season are a game out of date.
“I rate them as Bale, then Sturridge, then Hazard, but it’s close. They are all outstanding players.”
“What is this, a wind up?”
“Hey Davey, this guy thinks Sturridge is better than Hazard. I kid you not!”
Alright, let’s do this.
Some people – like the ones paraphrased above – are wrong about Daniel Sturridge. They see the arrogance, the silly dance, and they write him off as a lot of flash and not much else.
They are unbelievably, almost inconceivably, wrong.
Despite the fact that Premier League fans have known about him since he was a teenager, Sturridge is still only 24, making him the same age as Gareth Bale and one year older than Hazard. No longer a young player, Sturridge is just entering his prime.
The thing is, he didn’t suddenly get good. He’s actually been really good for the better part of four years now, but somehow a lot of fans still haven’t caught on to this fact. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the production.
Owned by Chelsea, but shipped off to Bolton to get actual playing time, Sturridge scored 8 goals in 10.8 90’s, for a spectacular .74 goals per 90. (His rate for the entire season, including sub appearances at Chelsea was .64.)
A fairly simple guideline for non-penalty scoring rates as a Forward is as follows:
.4 to .49 non-penalty goals per 90: Good.
.5 to .59 non-penalty goals per 90: Very good.
.6 to .79 non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 20 in Europe
.8 or above non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 5 in Europe
Lionel Messi has the best rate on record at 1.44 per 90, set last season.
So at age 21, Sturridge posted a rate that would rank him in the top 20 in Europe while on loan at that hotbed of goal production, Bolton.
2011-12 – Chelsea
In just over 25 90’s at Chelsea, playing almost exclusively on the right wing (where it is considerably harder to score than being up front), Sturridge slotted home 11 goals for a .44 goal scoring rate. He also had 3 assists that season, solid passing accuracy (81.6%), good key passes, etc.
This is an excellent season for a 22-year old, especially when playing out wide.
2012-13 – Mostly Liverpool
Between the Olympics and a hamstring injury, the first half of this season was almost a complete washout for Sturridge. Despite the fact that Fernando Torres was no longer El Nino, those at Chelsea decided Sturridge wouldn’t make the final cut of their team, and they sold him to Liverpool with six months left on his contract for a rumoured £12M.
His 12-13 season saw this production.
BAM! Right back to what he produced when playing at Bolton, except a touch more efficiently. 2 Dribbles a game is good. 2.3 key passes a game is very good. As mentioned before, .72 non-penalty goals a game will probably make you one of the top 10 goalscorers in Europe in a season. Add a solid assist tally for a forward, and Sturridge’s scoring contribution (goals + assists) was nearly 1 a game.
Needless to say, Chelsea’s other forwards that they chose to keep around have performed nowhere near that well.
But yeah, okay, it was only a few months, and anyone can have a hot streak over a few months. Having some doubt is perfectly fine.
How did Sturridge fare the next season?
Conversion rate is up, shots per 90 is down. Key passes are down quite a bit, but he’s still churning out an excellent number of assists for a center forward. But that goal rate… WOW. [Note: It's up a notch further, as Sturridge scored Saturday and didn't play the full 90.]
According to data gurus Opta, in the history of the Premier League, how many players averaged one goal or more per 90 when playing at least half a season?
The answer: One.
Ronaldo in 2007-08.
Here’s the thing though… Ronaldo had 31 goals in 30.5 90’s that year, but 4 of those were penalties. His adjusted rate without the penalties is .89.
Sturridge’s rate this year is 1.
According to Duncan Alexander at Opta, prior to this season, there were three other players who played less than half the minutes in the season who eclipsed this mark: Ole Gunnar Solskaer and Kevin Campbell in 98-99, and Papiss Cisse when he first arrived at Newcastle in 11-12.
Sturridge only has 14 90’s played so far, and it’s an open question of whether he can keep up this scoring pace, but right now he is scoring goals at a rate that has never been done before in the Premier League.
People should be amazed! Instead, they sit back complaining about his dance. [For the record, I love a goal celebration, regardless of how silly, contrived, choreographed or ridiculous.]
Add in the assist rate, and Sturridge is accounting for more than 1.2 goals per game in scoring. That’s a crazy number, and it’s better than anything Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie have ever produced in their illustrious careers. The rate is so good that it approaches Thierry Henry’s incredible 24G/23A season for Arsenal in 2002-03 or Didier Drogba’s 29G/10A season for Chelsea in 2009-10, which might just be the two best scoring seasons in all of Premier League history.
Is Sturridge as good as Henry?
In a word: no.
Henry in his prime was an absolutely unstoppable combination of pace, goal scoring, and brilliant passes to set up his teammates. But at the same age as Sturridge, on what was probably a better team, Henry scored 24G/5A in 33 matches, a rate Sturridge is on pace to match if he can stay healthy the rest of the year.
The thing we need to realize is that Sturridge has been good for quite a while, and this season at Liverpool he is actually doing something unprecedented in Premier League history.
Daniel Sturridge is now the best English centre forward. With maybe two exceptions (Aguero and Suarez), he is practically the best producing centre forward in England.
Maybe, instead of being shocked that someone would think Daniel Sturridge is a match for Eden Hazard, or would dare to mention him in the same breath as Thierry Henry, we can look at his production and think, “Wow, this 24-year old guy who is just now entering the prime of his career, is actually amazing.”
Think of it another way.
Maybe the answer to “Is Daniel Sturridge as good as Thierry Henry?” isn’t “Of course not!”
Maybe, just maybe…
It’s “Not yet.”