Exclusive: Darren Burgess tells the truth about pain and Daniel Sturridge

Christ among the Doctors by Jacopo Bassano the elder,1539.
Christ among the Doctors by Jacopo Bassano the elder,1539.

“There’s nothing new under the sun”, said King Solomon in Proverbs, “All that’s out there is out there.” The subject that we are about to prod, has been examined in the past, for and behest of good players, better players, and no less, the best players to grace the game. Articles on football usually, inevitably need an angle, because a narrative always makes for a pretty bow to tie it all up. But this isn’t one of those. This isn’t about drawing hyperbole with the greats in Luis Ronaldo or Van Basten, or Redondo, or tugging the heartstrings with the what-could-have-beens of Fernando Torres or Robbie Fowler. This article is about the subjectivity of injuries, fan opinion and, with utmost sincerity, about Daniel Sturridge.

Juan Carlos Valeron, in all possibility, the head honcho of the nearly men. Spoken in the same breath in Zidane.
Juan Carlos Valeron, in all possibility, the head honcho of the nearly-men. Spoken in the same breath as Zidane in terms of ability; and sugar-glass in terms of ductility.

Juan Carlos Valeron, Kieron Dyer, Savisevic, Owen Hargreaves, Harry Kewell, Johnathan Woodgate, Abou Diaby, Dean Ashton, Fabio Aurelio, Holger Badstuber, Tomas Rosicky, Sebastian Deisler, Vicente, Martin Laursen, Christian Veiri, and Alvaro Recoba. All names from past and present that’d would invoke lukewarm empathy or indifference from rival fans, and a sense of downright tragedy from fans of their own clubs – and that sets us up with the perfect starting point.

Empathy and football.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, wrote, that ‘reserving judgement is a matter of infinite hope.’ How fitting that is, when it comes to the fickle world of football. It’d be next to impossible to explore a matter of such subjectivity without accounting for emotion. It’d be downright daft.

As football fans we set ourselves up for disappointment, every week. Highs and lows on the cruise-liner called S.S. Hope, boarded for life. Toot, toot! Match-going fans or not, we are entitled to be frustrated because we are invested, one way or the other. But how far do we tow the banter-line without being belligerent?

On contrary to popular belief, footballers aren't automatons.
On contrary to popular belief, footballers aren’t automatons.

The premise is simple: Granted a player is bagging an excess of 100k per week, it doesn’t in any construct of logic mean that he’s culpable of how his body breaks down to the demands of the modern game. It’s insults intelligence (and science) to vilify him for that.

Calcification rates, scar tissues, muscle recovery, soft tissue ductility, fibrinogen count, among many other checkboxes aren’t consistent across the board for every player to ever put on a pair of spikes.

All in the head?

The departed, Gerry Byrne (may he rest in power) has forever etched his name on the annals of Anfield folklore for playing through the pain barrier. He had a small matter of a mangled collar bone for 117 minutes, on the occasion of the 1965 FA Cup Final.

The pain threshold has been a talking point, and reasonably so, in the curious case of Daniel Sturridge. But the frustration as well as it could be justified, will be unfounded.

Footballers, like many in public eye, are affected by what's been said. It can't be an easy thing. Just ask Van Gogh's dismembered ear.
Footballers, like many in public eye, are affected by what’s been said. It can’t be an easy thing. Just ask Van Gogh’s dismembered ear.

Medically-speaking, the threshold is the experience of the patient, whereas the intensity measured is an external event. The intensity at which a stimulus begins to evoke pain varies from individual to individual and for a given individual over time. In other words, it’s as much a matter of body over mind as mind over body.

To lend further insight, here’s Darren Burgess, one of the most celebrated name in sport science and former head of Liverpool’s Sport Science Department.

Darren Burgess with Luis Suarez on August 9, 2011 in Liverpool, England.
Darren Burgess with El Loco, Luis Suarez

1. With the advances in sports sciences and technology, and its application to the modern game, what are your opinions on the physical demands from athletes in modern football, especially the Premier League? Do they have enough recovery time?

DB:”I think 2 days in-between games is just too short. In the interests of player welfare, and ultimately fans getting to see the best players play, there should be a minimum of 3 days break in between games, particularly in the EPL. The EPL is far more physically demanding than any other league and players there have to play more games than any other European league so its especially important in England to have a greater break between games.

“Sport science has been a blind spot for football for years, for fans and management alike, so the understanding about injuries is still at a rudimentary level. Players are often told to man-up and carry on without consideration for complications. The acknowledgement for the need of sports science in the NFL and NBA, etc, has seen athletes add an average of 5 years to their careers. It’s a responsibility the sport of football owes to those who play it to ditch the ultimately profit-driven, misplaced sense of masculinity, .”

2. You’ve worked closely with Torres as well as Suarez. Could you tell us what role did an injury have on a player’s mental focus and stability? How did each of them react differently, and recoup from injuries and setbacks?

DB:”Well, Luis was never injured so we never had to worry about about his mental focus being altered by injury. He was, and is, incredibly resilient, particularly considering the style of game he plays. I never like to talk about specific players that I’ve worked with but I will say that in general injury, and in particular repeated injury, can be incredibly debilitating to a players confidence and general mental health. If a player suffered a lot of injuries its only natural that they would lose confidence in their body, in particular their speed, strength and endurance. Some players can undoubtedly do it better than others. In the past, I have conducted speed and endurance tests on players in order to convince them that they were as fast as they’d always been.”

3. We’ve discussed how certain players recover differently due to their physical built, emotional drive as well as a psychological mindset. We’d like to discuss more on a topic which has not been touched by football experts on the field. What is your opinion on pain threshold for a sports athlete and is it subjective to an individual? How does psychology play a part in enduring pain and recovering from long-term or chronic injuries? And is it really fair to blame a player who has a low pain threshold?

DB: “Briefly, each player has a different pain threshold and psychology, injury history and environment certainly plays a part in this threshold and its ability to be altered. It’s wrong to blame players for this. Most players have had to endure large amounts of pain in their footballing life to get to the top so its unfair. However, there are certainly players I have worked with and know of that could push through some discomfort a little more than what they have. Luis Suarez, for instance has mind boggling levels of endurance.”

4. Since joining Liverpool FC, Daniel Sturridge has now suffered 18 injuries and missed 614/1,121 days, which is almost half his tenure. Do you believe the chronic injuries he has suffered, will be a concern going into the future? Moreover, given his unfortunate track record, is this more of a psychological issue than physical injury?

DB: “I think its a massive concern for the player and the club. Anyone with that injury record is more likely to re-injure. Unfortunately, the biggest risk factor for injury is the previous injury. Any player or person with that injury record would have huge confidence issues going forward and would need all the support he could get.”

5. Will this affect Sturridge fundamentally as a player? Do you believe that there is a necessity for Sturridge to alter his style of play in order to stay fit?

DB: “I don’t think he needs to change his style. He’s obviously an incredible player and has phenomenal speed and agility and I’m sure he would need to maintain these in order to be the player he is. However, I would imagine once he does come back to training he would need an extended period of training and practice games to give him (and the coaches/staff) the confidence in his body to be able to perform as he can multiple times a week.”


Footballers are not relatable. Sponsorship deals, a whole world of recreational activities, convoluted bonuses, fine dine, fine wine and finer cars. It comes with the cost of being in the public eye and being dissected by millions the world over – and with the advent of social media, that scrutiny has manifested itself into voyeuristic tendencies.

While we fully pander to the privileged position they hold, we as fans, would be remiss to undermine the dedication and the struggle it takes for a professional to reach the dizzying technical and physical heights, for apathy to turn into adoration.

Daniel Sturridge


Gaurang Manjrekar

Believes in the lost art of story-telling. Committed to revolutionizing football journalism.