Liverpool Football club have endured a tough few years. The financial mismanagement of the previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and their decisions regarding the hiring and firing of personnel (most notably replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson) left the club in a massive hole both on and off the pitch, from which it has taken Liverpool, under new owners FSG, over two seasons to try to emerge. During this period many mistakes have been made, by the ownership and the management, in terms of staff appointments, PR, and transfer targets, the latter having resulted in £millions being essentially wasted. However, one piece of business that the club undoubtedly got right was the big money signing of Uruguayan international, Luis Suarez.
Luis Suarez joined Liverpool from Ajax for a fee of just over £22m in January 2011. The tenacious talent, who learnt his craft playing barefoot on the streets of Montevideo, moved to Holland at the end of the 2006 season after being spotted by scouts from Groningen. The scouts, there to run the eye over another player, were dazzled by the display they had seen from Suarez and approached him about the possibility of a move to Europe. Suarez, whose ten goals in twenty-seven appearances at Nacional had helped the club win the league title, jumped at the chance as a move to Holland would have brought him much closer to his childhood sweetheart (now wife) Sofia, who’d moved to Barcelona the year earlier. Groningen paid €800,000 for his services.
Once in Holland Suarez struggled to settle initially, particularly given his inability to speak Dutch or English, however, his determined character allowed him to make strides in this area and things picked up quickly with the youngster netting thirteen goals in thirty-one league games. After a protracted transfer saga, Suarez moved to Ajax, after just one year at Groningen, for a fee of €7.5m.
Suarez flourished at the Amsterdam Club, scoring nineteen goals in his first league season. The following year, Suarez’s goal stats improved as he bagged twenty-two in thirty-one league games, however his temperament was proving a cause for concern as he clocked up seven yellow cards and received the mandatory suspension. Suarez was never a dirty player, however he did (and to a certain extent still does) have the propensity to react to fouls committed against him and to decisions which he feels aren’t correct. Suarez himself credits his then coach, Marco van Basten along with other Ajax legends Denis Bergkamp, Johan Cruyff and Henk ten Cate with teaching him how to control his temper and to avoid reacting to fouls.
2009/10 was a huge year for Suarez. The Uruguayan lit up the Eeredivisie, scoring thirty-five goals in thirty-three league appearances, and forty-eight in all competitions, as Ajax, under new boss Martin Jol, won the Dutch Cup and finished second in the league behind FC Twente. The summer of 2010 saw Luis Suarez explode onto the World scene and become a household name in Britain for all the wrong reasons. Uruguay, a small South American country with a rich footballing tradition took World Cup 2010 by storm, reaching the semi-final, before being knocked out 3-2 by Holland in a superb game.
Suarez had an excellent tournament, scoring three goals, assisting twice and being named man of the match in both the final group game against Mexico and the first knock-out game against South Korea. In the quarter final against Ghana, however, Suarez handled a goal-bound shot on the line, preventing what surely would’ve been a winning goal for the African side. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed the resultant penalty and Uruguay won the ensuing shoot-out. Suarez was red-carded. Some say villain, others say hero, however in the hypocritical eyes of British journalists, the Uruguayan was a cheat, plain and simple.
Following the tournament Suarez, now internationally notorious, returned to Ajax where he continued to score goals, scoring his hundredth for the Amsterdam club (putting him alongside legends such as Cruyff, van Basten and Bergkamp) and netting seven in thirteen league games. His season would take a turn for the worse though as, during an in-game altercation with PSVs Otman Bakkel, the striker bit his opponents shoulder. Suarez who apologised publicly for his transgression, was suspended for seven matches. During his time out, Ajax listened to offers from other European clubs interested in acquiring the services of their South American forward and, in January of 2011 they accepted a bid from Liverpool. Suarez, who captained the Amsterdam club, left Ajax on great terms and was awarded a 2010/11 Eeredivisie winners medal, after leaving, for his contribution to the club’s successful title winning season that year.
So Suarez arrived on Merseyside, at a club which was then in full crisis mode. Kenny Dalglish had just taken over at the helm and Liverpool had just lost their main striker, and the man Suarez had been meant to partner, Fernando Torres. Dalglish did a fantastic job, reinvigorating the side and dragging the club from the lower reaches of the league table, up to a respectable sixth place by the end of the 2010/11 season. Suarez played no small part, setting the Premier League alight with his breathtaking displays of dribbling and close control and scored four goals in twelve starts.
However, the good times would have to be put on hold for a while as the following season would prove to be the most trying of Suarez’s career. As mentioned above, as far as journalists in Britain were concerned, Luis Suarez was a target. The die had been cast, in their eyes, through Suarez’s handball at the World Cup a full season prior and they would not hesitate to pounce on the slightest indiscretion from the Uruguayan.
They got their chance to stick the knife in following a game between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford in the early part of the 2011/12 season. Suarez had tormented United at Anfield a few months previously, flabbergasting the away side’s back four with his mesmeric skill and laying a hat-trick on a plate for Dirk Kuyt. Alex Ferguson had obviously marked him as a danger man to be stopped at all costs and he proved the Scot right as he made Patrice Evra look like a a schoolboy with his pants down in the subsequent meeting.
After the game, Alex Ferguson accused Suarez of diving, taking care to repeat his accusation in order that it be thoroughly picked up on by the media; it was. Another allegation was made after the game, this one by Patrice Evra, who accused Suarez of racially abusing him. This allegation was taken very seriously and Suarez was found guilty by the FA and handed an eight match ban. Suarez has always protested his innocence and the accusation was never proven with any video evidence or corroborating testimony. However, despite the clear problems with the tribunal process, despite the lack of evidence, despite Suarez’s own multi-cultural background and Evra’s record of giving unreliable testimony, the press were sure that the FA had been correct and they hounded Suarez and the club for their stance in supporting him, almost constantly, for the rest of the season.
The eight game lay-off and the subsequent abuse, the booing, the lack of sympathy from referees all affected Suarez’s game last season and he recorded his lowest league goal-scoring return since arriving at Groningen in 2006-just eleven in seventeen games. This led to criticism from members of the press, and others, and the spurious assertion that Suarez is not a natural goal-scorer and can’t be relied upon to deliver the goods when it matters, despite the fact that Suarez had led Uruguay to the 2011 Copa America title, scoring four goals, winning the Golden Boot and being named player of the tournament.
So to this season. More allegations, with Alex Ferguson particularly vocal, along with Tony Pulis and David Moyes: Suarez is a diver! Not quite in so many words but not far off it. However despite these allegations, which for the most part are untrue ( I would argue that if Suarez really was a diver he’d be on the ground for ninety minutes given the treatment that he gets), Luis Suarez is beginning to turn the media’s and therefore the public’s perception of him and now, finally, people are beginning to see what a truly gifted footballer the man is. Liverpool fans have known this all along, so has Ferguson and Moyes, Pulis et al, that’s why they’ve tried to muddy the waters as regards Liverpool’s number seven.
In the 2012/13 season, Suarez appears to have put last year’s tribulations to bed and not only that, he’s turning negatives into positives. The handshake with Evra was an important moment, for even if Suarez feels he was wronged, which he does, the handshake provided a degree of closure for the Uruguayan and, in a wider sense, freed him from the animosity, frustration and the sense of injustice which seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders for the best part of the last campaign. It also, of course, pleased the media onlookers and the neutral fans who seem to attach so much importance to these meaningless gestures. His celebration after scoring the opener in the Merseyside derby was a masterstroke and won him the appreciation of fans and pundits up and down the country, even David Moyes was impressed by the striker’s comedy dive.
The main ingredient to altering the perception has come and is coming on the pitch. Suarez has been fantastic so far this season, he has taken up the challenge to be Liverpool’s main goal-scorer with aplomb and, in a team which is bereft of striking alternatives at the moment, his goals and performances have kept the Reds in touch with the top six. Suarez has eight goals and two assists in eleven Premier League games so far, to with three in three starts in the cup competitions. Brendan Rodgers described him as being “a bit like Messi” recently and why not? Of the top players out there, there isn’t really another who you’d compare Suarez with, especially in style of play, dribbling ability, dropping deep to collect the ball, committing defenders and influencing the team. Messi scores more goals and has more composure in front of goal, however he plays in a much better team. Messi is Barca’s wildcard, the hub of everything and the man who can deliver something special when the tiki-taka fails to find a way through, Suarez is that man at Liverpool.
Suarez’s goals this season have put him top of the Premier League scoring charts and have gone a long way to rubbishing claims that he’s not a natural goal-scorer. Petr Cech believes he is at any rate. The Chelsea keeper who faced Suarez at Stamford Bridge last week has praised the Uruguayan’s honesty and goal-scoring ability.
“We should give Suarez credit because when we had a one-versus-one, he didn’t try to cheat and jump or dive, and that was a fair thing for him to do,” Cech told reporters.
“We all know how dangerous he is in the box. He’s a natural goalscorer, always in the right place to tap the ball in. It’s a gift not everyone has. He is on fire this season in terms of scoring goals”
Suarez’s team-mate and Liverpool hero, Jamie Carragher, believes that the Reds’ current number seven is the best striker in the Premier League and puts him in the same bracket as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I’ve said for 12 months now that he’s the best player in the Premier League because he’s maybe not playing alongside the kind of players that, for example, the Chelsea players can play alongside.
“He’s one of the best players in world football and we are delighted to have him. He does things in a game that we see him doing in training on a daily basis,” Carragher told the Liverpool Echo.
“People say that we are dependent on Suarez, but listen. Look at (Lionel) Messi at Barcelona, (Cristiano) Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, Manchester United have had a lot of goalscorers from different positions.
“But every team will have a standout player, and Luis is one of them, not just in the Premier League but in the world.”
It’s taken almost two seasons but the tide is slowly beginning to turn in Suarez’s and Liverpool’s favour. Suarez’s goals have helped the Reds go six games unbeaten in the Premier League and, in so doing, break the cycle which has built up over the last three seasons of losing roughly one out of every three games. There’s a long way to go in this Barclays Premier League season and there’s no telling what hurdles Liverpool may have to overcome but, with reinforcements set to arrive in January, Brendan Rodgers will be praying that the performances and goals of Luis Suarez can help set the Reds up for an assault on the Champions’ League places, and their closest rivals Everton, in the second half of the campaign.
Suarez Career Goal-scoring Stats (IAC)
Groningen 2006/07: 14 goals in 34 appearances
Ajax 2007/2011: 111 goals in 159 appearances
Liverpool 2011/pres: 31 goals in 68 appearances
Uruguay 2007/pres: 28 goals in 54 appearances
Kop image by Ben Sutherland. Suarez image by RuaraidhG.