Daniel Sturridge's convoluted Liverpool legacy full of great highs, extended lows
It is the sort of scenario that sounds ideal for Liverpool. In the last game of the season, with Champions League qualification at stake, Daniel Sturridge scores a quite superb goal, the sort that few others could think of, let alone execute, to put them ahead. It is a moment to show that while he may not be an ideal fit for Jurgen Klopp's brand of football, such brilliance makes him hard to ignore.
It is not plucked from fantasy, but history. Twelve months ago, Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead in the Europa League final. Sevilla duly won 3-1. Fast forward a year and the uneasy alliance between Klopp and Sturridge has been renewed. After a catalytic display and a terrific goal at West Ham, he is surely set to start against Middlesbrough on Sunday. Victory would realise Liverpool's ambition for the season.
It may also enable Sturridge to script a perfect goodbye. His contract has two years left to run, and he responded to talk about his future last Sunday by declaring: "I don't have any worries about next season." If it appeared laid back, it also had a certain ambiguity. It feels implausible that next year will be a repeat of this, that one of the most feared finishers in the division will accept a bit-part role and that Liverpool will not look to cash in on a player they pay £150,000 a week but scarcely use.
So if this is it, it poses the question of how Sturridge will be remembered. He has been both prolific and, due to injuries, impotent. He could be branded a one-season wonder, but it was a wondrous season, when Liverpool scored a century of league goals and, until Leicester City came along, mounted the most unexpected title tilt for years. Yet in three subsequent seasons, he has mustered a total of 15 Premier League goals which, to put it another way, is fewer than Bournemouth's Josh King has mustered in the past nine months alone.
Seasonal tallies of 11, 21, 4, 8 and 3 league goals can highlight the extent to which 2013-14 represented the outlier for Sturridge and how much of the subsequent time has been spent on the treatment table and the bench. In the days before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo rewrote the rules for attackers, the marker for strikers was whether they could average a goal every other game. Sturridge has done just that for Liverpool, both in the Premier League (47 in 87) and all competitions (61 in 118). Judge him by his number of starts and the statistics become even more impressive: 39 in 61 and 51 in 84 respectively.
He reached a half-century of Liverpool goals in fewer games than his old sidekick, Luis Suarez. At one stage, he had the fifth best goals-per-game ratio in Premier League history, behind only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Thierry Henry and Diego Costa. He has rubbed shoulders with the greats and sat side-by-side with Alberto Moreno among the men Klopp has held in reserve. He has only started 21 of Liverpool's past 110 league games. He has been demoted for Roberto Firmino, a false nine, and Divock Origi, an eager runner who lacks his class.
Sturridge's Liverpool career seems to represent a conundrum. He began in 2013 with Brendan Rodgers' seemingly tactless warning that it was his last chance at a big club and set about scoring against the largest. He struck on his league debut against Manchester United. His third league goal came against Manchester City, his fifth against Chelsea. His breakthrough campaign the following year included three goals against Everton, a winner against United and one in a rout of Arsenal. His quality was proved.
He is one of only four players, with Robbie Fowler, Fernando Torres and Suarez, to score 20 Premier League goals in a season for Liverpool. It places him alongside Anfield's recent striking greats, yet Sturridge stands apart. His impact was not sustained over several seasons, only apparent in fits and starts.
It makes him a unique figure in Liverpool's recent history, separated from the attacking icons by the comparative brevity of his contribution, but certainly not in the sizeable bracket of striking disappointments, which includes Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Fernando Morientes and Andriy Voronin. There are those, such as Robbie Keane, Christian Benteke and Iago Aspas, who left Anfield deprived of a chance to show what they could do, written off almost before they began. Once again, Sturridge does not belong in that category. Then there is a further subsection, including Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt and, perhaps, Origi, of players who delivered useful contributions but were never quite prolific enough to be Liverpool's main striker. Sturridge had the skill, the selfishness and the composure in front of goal, just not the durability or the pressing game to suit Klopp.
A singular figure stands apart in a team with a collectivist ethos and in Liverpool's striking tradition. Sturridge is the loner who defies categorisation, the one-season wonder who could define if a different season is seen as a success.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.