Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge will miss the start of next season after being ruled out for four months following hip surgery.
The Merseyside club are resigned to losing the England centre-forward for the whole of pre-season, with a likely return to training scheduled for September. That means it could be even longer before he is considered fit for a first team recall.
It is the latest in a series of setbacks for the 25-year-old, who has spent most of the season receiving treatment for a succession of thigh and groin strains. A hip problem ruled him out of the FA Cup semi-final and climax to this season.
Liverpool are privately hoping the latest surgery will rid Sturridge of his injury issues, with indications that the hip problem may have caused previous setbacks.
Sturridge was initially injured while on international duty last September, which prompted criticism of England manager Roy Hodgson. With the club now accepting that the player had long-term, existing issues that could have flared up at any time, that public criticism of Hodgson now looks ill-advised eight months on.
The operation Sturridge has undergone in New York has been described as a “success” but it will renew focus on how Brendan Rodgers’s side will line up in August.
Sturridge’s absence, allied to the sale of Luis Suárez last summer, has ensured Rodgers’s position has been under no serious threat after a disappointing Premier League and shocking Champions League campaign. There is an acceptance that the single biggest contributor to the club’s toils has been a lack of goals – although technically they could still finish fourth with three fixtures remaining.
Rodgers is not being held wholly accountable for the deterioration from last season, and the primary focus over the next few months will be signing two new strikers. Sturridge’s prolonged absence makes this an even greater priority.
Barring any last-minute hitch, Burnley’s Danny Ings will be one of the additions when his contract ends in July, and Divock Origi will join for £10 million in a deal reached with Lille last summer. But with Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini aware they can leave for the right offer, another top class centre-forward is essential to Rodgers.
Memphis Depay’s decision to join Manchester United despite interest from Liverpool has prompted familiar criticism of the club that they are proving incapable of going toe-to-toe with their top-four rivals for the most coveted European talent.
It is not only up front where there is a void to fill, with captain Steven Gerrard preparing for his final games for the club. However, he has indicated his wish to return in some capacity at a later date.
Liverpool will consider a loan next January, and further ahead a coaching position should not be ruled out.
“It’s going to be difficult to let go,” Gerrard told Liverpool’s official magazine. “It’s exciting to know I will be trying something different, playing in another league and getting to see a lot of a great country like America.
“At the same time, I’m emotional and I know these final few weeks will be tough. I just don’t know what is going to happen after my last game at Anfield against Crystal Palace
“All I know is it will be a hugely emotional day for me when my Liverpool career comes to an end after so long.
“My relationship with Liverpool doesn’t end though. I’m hoping I’ll return to the club in some capacity one day. If that’s not to be, then I’ll always come back as a supporter.
“Since I got into the first-team set-up nearly 17 years ago, I’ve lived my life for Liverpool Football Club.
“I wake up every day wanting success just as much as the fans, I’ve been that way for an awful long time and it’s been a privilege to captain our club. I’ve loved wearing the armband.
“At the same time, it will be nice to step away from that intensity and take a deep breath, I’ll be able to go and enjoy the remaining years of my career without that same level of pressure.
“I didn’t feel I’d enjoy it as much at Liverpool if I became a squad player or a bit-part player.