‘We want Sturridge!’ A night out at superstar’s debut

The Isuzu UTE A-League debut of Daniel Sturridge was low in on-field action but it gave a bumper home crowd plenty of reasons to cheer, writes Matthew Comito for KEEPUP.

Nine minutes and four touches were all Daniel Sturridge could conjure on his Isuzu UTE A-League debut – but his off-field presence was palpable, experienced first-hand by a vibrant Perth crowd which packed HBF Park on Saturday night.

It was an important occasion for the club and its fans but also for Sturridge himself, who ended his near-21 month absence from the professional game in Perth’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide United.

Fans were warned to temper their expectations in the lead-up to the Round 1 fixture; Sturridge had only just emerged from two weeks of hotel quarantine one week beforehand, compounding a lack of in-game fitness caused by his lengthy absence from the professional game.

They turned up in their droves regardless. 

A line stretched from the ticket booth to the roadside outside HBF Park two hours before kick-off as hopeful fans queued to get a look at the biggest show in town. One hour later the club announced a general admission sellout.

That just doesn’t happen in Perth. Not without the pull of a player renowned on the global stage.

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But from the first moment Sturridge crossed the white line in Glory’s pre-match preparations it was apparent he was in no rush to click into gear. His teammates broke into a jog, stretching across the turf from one wing to the other whilst Sturridge took one step onto the park, bent down, tied his laces, then ambled along to meet up with the pack.

As the warm-up intensified he vanished, returning only in the moments before kick-off. As he approached the bench, Glory teen Josh Rawlins shuffled onto a plastic chair alongside the row of plush seats to make room for Sturridge to begin his 85-minute stay.

“Number 15… Daniel Sturridge!” Proclaimed the stadium announcer as he read through the names occupying the Glory bench. You’ll never hear a louder roar for a substitute in your life. 

The 17,198-strong crowd came to see their star recruit in action, but in the early knockings they were treated instead to an entertaining battle between two teams pulling no punches. 

The smooth moves of a celebrating striker came in front of The Shed, just as the home fans had hoped to see, but it was Reds forward Kusini Yengi – not Sturridge – who put his dancing skills on show as Adelaide silenced the masses.

Bruno Fornaroli hit back with a bolt from the blue, striking from 30-yards out to level the score at 1-1 and make Sturridge sit forward and take notice.

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No more than 60 seconds after the second half began, the chant rang out: “We want Sturridge, we want Sturridge!”

A shot of the Englishman kitted out, training top removed flashed on the screens of HBF Park, getting the home fans off their seats. Antonee Burke-Gilroy lashed the back of the net moments later, the two events in close succession combining to send a sea of limbs colliding in the stands.

VAR found an offside call in the build-up to Burke-Gilroy’s goal, Sturridge zipped his jacket back up over his kit, and the mood inside the ground quickly deflated.

He would go on to spend just nine minutes on the pitch, a cameo made memorable only by the deafening roar which met his entrance to the field of play.

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“I’m not going to take too much from that,” said Glory head coach Richard Garcia after the game, reflecting on his star recruit’s Isuzu UTE A-League debut. 

“What we’ve seen in training has been good, it’s about him now building up and finding his feet, getting the fitness he needs to play games. 

“We need to get him back into full training as quickly as possible, that’s probably the first step, to make sure he can handle the load and make sure we manage that load so he can get minutes here and there off the bench before he plays a full game.”

The post-match message from Sturridge? “It’s going to take time. 

“It’s the managers decision on the time I play.

“I was in that (hotel) room for two weeks – and I’ve been out of that room for seven days. It’s not easy to go from being in a room for two weeks straight to then go and play professional football matches.

“Of course it’s going to take time for me to get to the level that everyone’s happy.”