MUCH ADO SPORT
He chose the path that led to a significant role in Liverpool’s Champions League fairytale.
Daniel Sturridge might only have made cameos in what has transpired to be his last season at the six-times European cup winners, but demonstrated a trademark quality – making his chances count.
They include scoring the opening goal against Paris St -Germain in the 3-2 win during the group stage in September.
In total, the gifted striker has 67 goals to his name from 160 appearances since joining The Reds in January 2013.
His departure this summer, when he becomes a free agent, has been garlanded with confetti and goodwill.
Sturridge, however, could have chosen another path in life, one favouring the way of guns, drugs and gangs.
Growing up in Hockley, Birmingham, he narrowly avoided a life of crime, concentrating on music and sport.
The prodigy would kick a ball around the house and front garden under the watchful eye of his God-fearing parents Michael and Grace.
Surrounded by gangs and drugs, he stayed on the “clean route” with his older brother, Leon, as another positive influence.
Manchester City’s academy beckoned when Sturridge was aged 13, but he remains a local lad.
He still sits down for Sunday dinner with his family and attended a celebration assembly in December when his aunt, Ava Sturridge-Packer CBE, retired from her headship of St Mary’s C of E Primary School in Handsworth.
It’s a story that has huge resonance with young people trying to escape ‘the roads’ as they look to brighter futures.
David Johnson, a senior co-ordinator at Sport 4 Life UK, a charity helping young people in Birmingham to find their way in work, education and training, views the 29-year-old footballer’s story as one of hope.
Mr Johnson, whose parents moved to the UK from Jamaica, said: “He is a role model for a lot of young people having grown up in one of the most deprived areas in Birmingham, Hockley, which has attracted headlines for gangs, guns and crime.
“Young people look to Daniel as someone who made it from a similar neighbourhood to themselves and it gives them hope.
“He found his way out through football and a lot of young people from deprived areas engage through sport before they find positive pursuits.
“His story shows that they can follow their dreams.”
While at Liverpool in 2014 the devout Christian founded The Sturridge Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping underprivileged children in England and Jamaica.
Sharing a love of ‘dancehall’ music with Usain Bolt, he has shown that traditional Jamaican values of family and thinking of others can help young people escape a seedier existence.
Sturridge has said: “The thing about Birmingham is you can go down two paths.
“You can go down the clean route, you can sometimes end up going down the wrong route and get involved with the wrong people and you end up being involved in the wrong type of lifestyle.
“That could have been me… It’s easy because it’s there, in front of you, day by day.”
The former Aston Villa youth player grew up in a neighbourhood where gangsters were strong influences on impressionable youngsters.
“The environment you grow up in, there’s a lot of drugs sold and that’s what was going on in a close environment,” he told Vice Sport.
“Obviously I looked up to footballers but in a close vicinity the things you see were loud music, gold and the glorification of ‘this person’s made it’.”
But the Birmingham-born striker credits his upbringing for allowing him to relate to people from all walks of life.
“I had an older brother who kept me out of trouble and a lot of it went on around close quarters, you see things first-hand going on,” he has said.
“A lot of things were normal.
“You can be in an environment you deem normal but someone from a completely different environment can come and spend one day and say, ‘this is crazy, get me out’.
“You grow up around a whole array of characters and you know how to deal with sketchy people because you met someone like that 15 years ago.
“I felt like I met so many different people and I was around so many weird characters as well as the gang culture.”
Sturridge, who reads the Bible every morning, has urged young people to shun the ‘gangsta’ lifestyle.
“There’s so many other things you can put your passion and your anger into,” he has said.
“You don’t need to pick up a knife or a gun or start selling drugs or start doing bad things or committing robberies or whatever it is.
“There’s a studio, there’s boxing gyms where you can not be fighting people, or UFC gym these days. Train.
“There’s loads of things that can take your mind off the pitfalls.”
Sturridge speaks fondly of the land of wood and water, the home of his grandparents where his family join him every year for his charity’s ‘Foundation Day’, giving thousands of young people a chance to play sports and enjoy live music.
He has said: “I love Jamaica, it’s my favourite place on Earth, I go there every year. It’s in my heart.”
Turning 30 in September, Sturridge is already being linked with other clubs, including in the MLS, after being bid farewell by Jurgen Klopp.
The footballer will not walk alone after Mersyside, taking the hopes of many in his home city with him.