Daniel Sturridge is far too good a player to be out of the Premier League after only just turning 31 but, let’s face it, the reason he is currently without a club has got nothing to do with his age, or his ability.
It’s not because of his injury history or wage demands, either – it’s down to the label he’s been given as being difficult, or a problem player.
I have no idea where that perception has come from, but it is a reputation that is completely undeserved.
Daniel’s been one of my closest friends in football since we were kids together at Manchester City playing for the under-14s. I know him as ‘Studge’ and he is one of the nicest – and hardest-working – people I know.
But mud sticks. I don’t think anyone would question how good he is ability-wise, but for some reason a lot of people who don’t know him at all seem to doubt his attitude and mentality, and what he’s like as a person.
It’s ridiculous. I just wish they knew what he is really like.
Is having confidence really a problem?
The picture often painted of Daniel in the media is of someone who is flash and arrogant, with a bad attitude, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, he’s a bit out there with his clothes and he loves to sing and dance. He is also a confident player when he’s on the pitch – but is any of that seen as bad now, or a problem? Of course it’s not.
He’s someone I’d always want at my club, and I’m not just saying that because he is my mate. Every manager he has played under has spoken highly of him, and it’s the same if you’ve played alongside him too.
I’ve never once heard another player criticise Daniel’s attitude or application – quite the opposite, in fact.
Despite that, in the past it has been fair game for people who have never met him to tear into his character on national radio or TV.
Former Crystal Palace owner and chairman Simon Jordan did that in August last year when Daniel was a free agent after leaving Liverpool, and I thought what he said about him was absolutely disgusting.
‘Don’t attack my character if you don’t know me’
Jordan called Daniel a “problem player” and a “divisive influence” and said he wouldn’t go anywhere near him, adding that he “wouldn’t want him Sturridge in my dressing room or at my training ground around younger players”.
I was listening and I was flabbergasted. I phoned Daniel up straight away to ask what had happened and he said he had no idea – he had never dealt with Jordan, and neither had his agent.
I don’t know whether someone else was touting him around various clubs without his authority and they were asking for ridiculous money – that kind of thing does happen. But you cannot tarnish Sturridge because he wasn’t involved, and it definitely doesn’t justify a personal attack like that.
Jordan has never been near a dressing room with Daniel, so how would he even know what he was like? The problem is, though, that some people listening or watching will have taken what Jordan said as being fact.
It was extremely unfair. When I was a player I accepted whatever anyone said about my performances. If someone thought I was the worst defender in the world then that was fine, it was their opinion.
But what I would not take was people attacking my character, because they didn’t know me.
I’m the same now I’m a pundit. If anyone is ever criticising a player personally on any show I’m on, then I will step in to ask if they have ever played with him, and if they know him or his family.
If not, then they should just shut up because they are doing a lot of damage, when they have no idea what they are talking about.
Jordan is actually an intelligent guy, and I agree with a lot of what he says. But when he was talking about Daniel, I just thought ‘wait – hold on a minute’.
Every dressing room I’ve been in with him in the past 16 years, from City’s youth teams to the first team, then with England under-21, England and Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, he has been a really positive presence for the whole team.
‘He knows his body and he has to take care of it’
Daniel’s had to deal with a lot of stick in recent years, mostly to do with his injury record.
The way it has been reported is that he won’t play unless he is 100% fit, which is nonsense. He’s been struggling with his hip from a young age but if he could play, he always would.
I guess the difference between him and me was that, whereas I would run through brick walls just to get on the pitch, even if I was 50% fit, he wouldn’t do that unless he felt he was ready to do himself justice.
That’s what people allude to when they question his commitment, but it’s his body. He knows it better than anyone and he’s got to take care of it.
For those people who say he should have followed my example, remember what that approach did to my career – I played my last game aged 28. Just because he doesn’t want to throw himself into tackles like I did does not mean his mentality is the wrong one.
In the past Daniel has considered retirement too, partly because of his injuries but also because of the way he is portrayed in the media. It must have felt like he was fighting a losing battle to prove people wrong.
Still good enough for the Premier League?
It would have been easy for Daniel to walk away from the game, but he’s still hungry. He went to Turkey last year to get away from all of that talk about him being injury-prone and get some games under his belt, to show he can stay fit.
He was doing well with Trabzonspor and was enjoying it before he got hit by a ban for breaching betting rules.
That was another blow on top of everything else, but I still speak to him a lot and he dealt with it pretty well, although you can never be sure how someone else is feeling, no matter how well you know them.
Right now, there’s plenty to take his mind off his search for a club. He’s about to become a dad and is back in the UK with his partner, waiting for the baby to arrive.
When he plays football again it might be with another team abroad, but I can’t help but think that there are several clubs in the Premier League who are missing a trick by not signing him.
I would include City in that, just to fill in while Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are injured. Even if he was half-fit, he would score goals in that side.
He can remind everyone how good a player he is
Technically he is good enough, but then he always has been. He was a year younger than me when he came to City aged 13, but he was so good he moved up to play with us older boys straightaway.
Daniel had everything – skill, close control and step-overs – and he would use it to destroy the opposition. He’s the best young player I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t believe how effortless he made it all look.
How good was he? Well, he was player of the tournament when City won the Nike Cup in 2004, which is the biggest and most prestigious under-15 tournament in the world. He was just ridiculously talented, and he found football so easy.
For those who criticise him and say he has not done enough with that talent, he has won the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup with Chelsea, and scored at a World Cup and European Championship for England.
Daniel had a phenomenal scoring record when he went to Liverpool too despite always being more of a number 10 than a number nine, and, when he was partnering Luis Suarez, those goals almost took them to the title in 2014.
So, when it comes to the time to look back on his career, I don’t think you could ever class him as a failure – but hopefully that won’t be for a few years yet.
At the moment it almost feels like people have forgotten how good he is, but Daniel still has time to remind them, and show everyone what he is really all about.
Micah Richards was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.