The bitterest fans of Chelsea's rivals aside, for most the return to form of Fernando Torres has been one of the most heart-warming aspects of the early part of the season. He looks bright, lively and happy, reinvigorated by the sort of supply he relishes from Chelsea's newly-formed phalanx of deft attacking midfielders. For one person at Chelsea, though, it is very bad news: Daniel Sturridge. Yet again, he sees a route to regular football being closed down.
Sturridge faces the classic dilemma of the young English player. He turns 23 on September 1, the age at which top players really should be starting to become established. By the end of the season in which he turned 23, Lionel Messi had scored 119 goals in la Liga; Sturridge has managed just 46 league starts.
Had Torres started the season poorly, Sturridge would almost certainly have been given his chance at centre-forward. He is, after all, a reasonably regular fixture in England squads and is clearly hugely talented. He may at time be a little selfish, and his decision-making can be questionable, but he is technically gifted and plays with rare imagination, as was demonstrated, for instance, in the back-heeled finish he scored at Sunderland last season.
But instead he looks like spending yet more time on the bench. What should a developing player do? Stay at a big club, collect a healthy wage package and play only occasionally, or drop a level, put aside thoughts of accumulating hordes of medals for a time, and actually get time on the pitch?
Sturridge only has to look back at the recent history of Chelsea to see a long list of players who have wasted a year or two of their careers sitting on the Stamford Bridge bench: Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell, Scott Parker, Carlton Cole, Joe Cole, Scott Sinclair. And he knows all too well from last season, when he did manage 28 league starts, that if he does get his chance it¹s as likely it be wide on the right as through the middle.
A club like Chelsea seems to feel a need for proven quality rather than potential at centre-forward. Torres will be shown patience because the club spent £50m for him; there is no earlier confirmation of his ability to refer back to, so Sturridge will never be allowed a run of poor games.
In that context, he could hardly be blamed if he were wondering contemplating a move; after all, his departure from Manchester City in 2009 was supposedly motivated by a desire for games. That would leave Chelsea short of strikers what may persuade Sturridge to give it one more year is the fact that he is clearly the first reserve and the fact the club has set a £25m price-tag suggests they don¹t want to let him go, but if Liverpool, who seem his principal suitors can offer the regular games he needs, it may be a move he has to make.