Australia’s A-League kicks off a new season this weekend with former Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge set to make his debut in Perth against Adelaide’s Josh Cavallo, who recently revealed he was gay.
Sturridge signed with Perth Glory as one of the competition’s highest-calibre players since Italian Alessandro Del Piero joined Sydney FC in 2012.
“I’m available,” said the 32-year-old after undergoing a mandatory two weeks’ quarantine.
“Of course it’s difficult in quarantine to train — you can’t play football or do anything that is natural to a football player. Now it’s about getting match fit and being in football shape again.”
The striker, who has not played since February last year when he featured for Turkish side Trabzonspor, is expected to make a cameo off the bench, adding: “I don’t feel nervous at all.”
Perth, who finished ninth in the 12-team competition last season, open their campaign against Adelaide United on Saturday in what will be a landmark game for midfielder Cavallo, should he play.
The 22-year-old Australia Under-20 international last month came out as the only openly gay men’s footballer in a top-flight league.
His decision to go public won plaudits throughout the footballing world and beyond, with legendary Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic tweeting: “You are a champion. Football is for everyone. Big respect.”
Antoine Griezmann, Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Raphael Varane, Gerard Pique and David de Gea were among a host of top footballers to support Cavallo’s decision.
Sturridge began his career at Manchester City before moving to Chelsea in 2009, but enjoyed his best spell at Liverpool after a transfer to Anfield in 2013.
He scored 24 goals in the 2013/14 season in a prolific front three alongside Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling as the Reds came agonisingly close to winning the Premier League.
He also led the line for England at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.
“He’s going to be one of the best players if not the best player in the league,” said Adelaide skipper Stefan Mauk. “It’s a tough first-up game.”
Defending champions Melbourne City get the season under way at home on Friday against Brisbane Roar after coming back from a goal down to outplay 10-man Sydney FC 3-1 and clinch their maiden A-League crown in June.
They are considered favourites to retain their title with Australia Socceroos Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout leading a formidable attack.
“The only expectation is for the players to train hard every. We’ll just concentrate day-by-day,” said City coach Patrick Kisnorbo.
In other games, Sydney FC face a derby against Western Sydney Wanderers, Newcastle Jets host Central Coast Mariners and Macarthur FC take on Wellington Phoenix.
Melbourne Victory will look to forget last season, when they finished last, as they open their campaign against Western United.