Eighteen goals by the striker is a large part of Liverpool's title challenge but he acknowledges there is still a lot to do
"He has said he wants to play football for a big club. The stage is set for him. There will be no excuses for him," Steven Gerrard January 2013
"If he wants to stay at the top level, this is probably his last chance." Brendan Rodgers January 2013
There was no triumphant fanfare to herald Daniel Sturridge's arrival at Liverpool. Doubts greeted him instead. Was money more important than his career? Did he demand to play as a central striker? Was 47 Premier League starts by the age of 23 a sign one of England's most promising talents had lost focus? Sturridge has answered the questions inside 14 months. Turns out he had lost his love for the game at Chelsea. Liverpool's gradual embrace has rekindled it.
"When we were at Chelsea together Fernando Torres would always say Liverpool is amazing, always," the 24-year-old recalls. "Yossi Benayoun was the same. They both said it was the best club they had played for and that the fans will make you feel amazing. At the time I thought, 'I need a bit of that in my life because I am so low right now, I need to feel good about myself'. It was an easy decision to come here."
Sturridge has earned Anfield's affection in this season of rediscovery for Liverpool. Only the world-class Luis Suarez can better his total of 18 Premier League goals in a campaign that has put Liverpool in sight of a first championship since 1990 and established Sturridge as a key figure for England ahead of the World Cup. Liverpool have corrected the career path of a lost player. In turn, Sturridge has been instrumental in correcting Liverpool's way towards a genuine title challenge.
"It has definitely been a perfect fit," he admits. "Before I came I discussed the move with my dad and uncle, as a family, but mainly my dad and my uncle [the former Derby and Wolves striker Dean Sturridge]. My uncle said, 'It's the best place for you to go.' My dad and I shared the same opinion, that it was the perfect fit.
"When the club came in I just wanted to get up the M6, sign on the dotted line and get to work. The appeal was in building something up and I was desperate to get here and show what I could do. I was hungry and I am still hungry. There is so much for us to achieve and we have not achieved anything yet. We have not achieved anywhere near what I want to achieve and I am sure the rest of the players feel the same. But we are going in the right direction and even though we have done so well this season, there is still a lot more to do."
The speed of Liverpool's emergence as a title contender has surprised many, including the architect, Brendan Rodgers, who believes the club are 12 months ahead of schedule. Less so Sturridge. He was still mired in frustration at Chelsea during the first, problematic six months of the Liverpool manager's reign and has experienced only an upwards trajectory since his £12m transfer last January.
Sturridge says: "I thought we could challenge because I have always had belief in the teams I have played for. When I came here it was a dream to be involved in winning titles, but it's important everyone realises it is an ongoing process. At the beginning of the season the aim was to get into the Champions League. Now we're getting towards the business end and we're up there, a lot of peoples' perception is that maybe we can win the league.
"There are others in a better position than us, it's going to be very difficult, but we will see what happens. The way the boys are playing and the confidence we have, the camaraderie, is something I have not been part of for a long time."
This season has altered the public perception of Sturridge's consistency and potency at the highest level. He is also keen to address allegations of self-interest, fuelled by a rapid succession of moves as a youngster – from Aston Villa to Coventry City to Manchester City as a schoolboy – and then the controversial decision to reject a £45,000-a-week contract offer from City to join Chelsea for an initial £3.5m 'development fee' in July 2009, becoming the highest-paid teenager in English football in the process. The open, engaging Sturridge charts his journey in minute detail and insists there is a common thread – to play football and to express himself while doing so. When discussing the influence of Rodgers he states how the Liverpool manager "wants us to express ourselves".
Later, when explaining his career path, he begins: "My dad's view about coaching was that you have to express yourself. When I was young at academies, I wasn't allowed to do that. They wanted to play me central midfield when I was at Aston Villa so that's why we left. Things were going good at Coventry but then scouts from Manchester United and different clubs around England were watching me and I don't think Coventry liked that. They played me two years up when I was 11 and I'd be getting kicked by 13 year-olds, getting injured and crying because of the abuse I was getting from these older players. My dad just wanted me to go somewhere that I could improve but really just enjoy it. He also didn't want my natural ability coached out of me.
"Maybe people think I chased the money because I have played for big clubs in City and Chelsea, but I always chased the opportunity to play. When you are a kid you dream of playing as much as you can until your mum calls you in and you can't play any longer. For me the key is to play football. It's not about the money and it's not about the medals [Sturridge has a Premier League, Champions League and two FA Cup winners' medals from his time at Chelsea and says he earned them all]. It's about enjoying it and living my dream.
"City were not billionaires when I was there. The money came in as I was leaving. People think I got loads of money at City and then left for Chelsea to chase more money. I didn't get that money. I moved to Chelsea because they made promises to me. They told me I would get opportunities, I would play and that they believed in me as a young player.
"I wanted to learn from Didier Drogba and Nico Anelka. I thought when Didier moved on, I would be next in line but it wasn't the case. In the end I begged Ron Gourlay [Chelsea's chief executive] to let me join Bolton on loan. At Bolton, Owen Coyle changed my life completely. I was in the first team, playing centre-forward and had a chance to show the world how I could play. I will always be thankful to Owen and Bolton for what they did for me.
"When I went back to Chelsea AVB was there and I played more – on the right wing mainly – and I was enjoying it. It wasn't about the position, it was about playing. But then AVB got fired, Di Matteo got the job and I was out of the team again. I felt I couldn't sit on the bench any longer as I had got used to playing. I was enjoying the feeling of putting my kit on and being on the pitch. I lost my love for the game at that point because I was back at square one."
Sturridge started 31 Premier League games during his three and a half years at Stamford Bridge. He will equal that tally for Liverpool on Saturday at Cardiff City where, as the coach approaches the stadium, he will be preoccupied with his mobile phone. "I watch all my goals before every game on the coach," he explains. "My favourite was the header at Everton. I like scoring headers and every time I watch that Everton goal I get the same feeling. I watch the goals on my phone to get me in the mood and to give myself a vision of how I want the game to go. I have got more clips as the season has gone on but that's good. I will do the same routine against Cardiff. The clips last around 15-20 minutes now, which is normally the time of the coach ride to a stadium so it is perfect."
It is beginning to feel that way for everyone at Liverpool.