We may never know how big a star Daniel Sturridge might have become at City. He was our youngest ever cover star for the City Magazine and we travelled to his home in Cheshire for this interview in 2005 and spoke as we walked around a local lake – all long before his move south…
Rarely, if ever, has there been such intense media speculation about a young player at Manchester City, as there has Danny Sturridge over the past couple of years. Still only 16 years old the teenage prodigy has been happily banging goals in for club and country in recent seasons and as he neared this sixteenth birthday.
While the interest from other clubs was almost certainly true, City always felt confident that Sturridge would realise the best opportunity of being fast-tracked into first team football, depending on progress, was with them.
It was with some degree of relief, then, when Sturridge put pen to paper on a three-year contract last month and committed his immediate future to the club. Now the quietly spoken England Under-17 star can concentrate on impressing Stuart Pearce in the coming weeks and months as he continues his football education.
Football is Danny’s blood. The Sturridge family has now spawned four professional players and including Danny and his father, there are his uncles Simon and Dean who have both enjoyed distinguished careers in English football.
It’s clear to see that he is being brought up to be a fine young man with no airs or graces about him and a solid family unit alongside all the way. He doesn’t have an agent – when he needs advice his father, a former pro at Birmingham City and his older brother Leon are always there for him to help guide him down the right path.
Intelligent and respectful and undoubtedly destined to be something of a pin-up boy, Danny arrived in the world at the same baby unit another young City star was delivered slightly more than a year before.
“Yeah, I was born in City Hospital, Birmingham – the same hospital as Micah Richards, actually,” smiled Danny. Perhaps City should station a scout permanently on that particular maternity ward?
“I first played for the school team as a seven-year-old, but I was on the bench because most of the boys were older than me. Some of them have also gone on to do well. Two of the lads are at Coventry City and one plays for Villa – it was a good side to play in.
“I think I ended up playing as a striker because I was quite small. I used to play with my brother Leon and his mates who were all a lot older than me and I used to get knocked about a bit.
“Leon would always look out for me and he set me up as often as he could with tap-ins. Along with my dad, my brothers taught me everything I know. I also played for Cadbury’s Athletic from the age of seven and their home pitch is actually on the site of the chocolate factory grounds.
“I reckon it’s still one of the best playing surfaces I’ve ever played on. I was with them for a year but being naturally left-footed I hardly ever used my right so my dad drilled me for around five years straight until I’d improved sufficiently – it’s been a huge help in my development.
“It was while I was at Cadbury’s that I was scouted for Aston Villa, but because I was seven, I was too young to sign for them. I’d go along and train with their Under-9s, but it wasn’t until I was actually nine that I actually signed forms of any kind. I think because I’ve always played with older kids it really helped my development, because physically I learned to handle myself and adapt my game.
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“My uncles Simon and Dean were always around when I was small. I’ve always been around football whether it was playing with my brother, my dad training me or watching games with my uncles involved. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a ball with me.
“I watched uncle Dean whenever I could when he was at Derby County and used to go along to Pride Park and the Baseball Ground before that with my dad. The team I supported was Newcastle United, though, because that’s who my brother supported and I generally followed and did as he did.
“Kevin Keegan was manager at the time, too, which is ironic because he was manager at City when I signed five years ago.
“The reasons I came here are simple, really. I played for Coventry against Manchester City in an academy game and Frankie Bunn got chatting with my dad. I was about 11 by this time and it wasn’t long after that game that I first met City’s recruitment officer Barry Poynton.
“He paved the way for me to join City and talked at length to my dad about what the club had to offer. My dad asked if I’d like to move up to Manchester and added he felt that moving out of Birmingham would be good for me.
“It was another change of environment – more so this time because it was a new city away from my friends and some of my family but I thought ‘why not?’ I liked the area and was impressed by the facilities at City, but Barry is the main reason I moved here and I’ve him to thank for the way things have gone since.
“I did get to speak to Kevin Keegan as well and it was good to meet him, if not a little weird having been a fan of Newcastle when I was a kid. City had some great players and he said he thought coming to City would be the right step to take at that stage of my career and I agreed.
“The City fans have been great with me, especially in the FA Youth Cup final where they got behind us hugely. They’ve stuck behind the first team when things haven’t been going well and for me, they are the best supporters in the country.”
What happened next: Few would argue that Sturridge was one of the country’s most instinctive strikers and had the ability to conjure special goals out of nothing. He would only play 32 times for City, scoring six goals and won the City Young Player of the Year award before his contract expired and he moved to Stamford Bridge. In later years, he revealed that, due to the new investment at City, he was one of six or seven strikers and as the youngest and least experienced, he felt his opportunities would become fewer as more top talent arrived.
He opted to join Chelsea where he won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League and he later played for Liverpool, Bolton and West Brom and won 26 England caps, but injuries hampered his career and he has only once reached 30 games in one season for any of his clubs. An outstanding talent, it’s true he has never had the warmest reception when he returned to the Etihad, but when he scored against City for Liverpool at the Etihad, he refused to celebrate and after the game, I said hello and jokingly asked if would have ever liked to come back to City. He just smiled and indicated he'd sign the next day, given the opportunity.
At just 30, he is - amazingly - currently without a club. A great talent and just a shame we didn't see more of him in sky blue...