It may be hard being Luis Suarez. It must be even harder being the club that employs him. Yet, despite this, if Liverpool declared tomorrow that they would accept a fee of £40million for the troubled Uruguayan – a fee that would represent a sizable profit on their investment of a couple of years ago – there’s little doubt that a somewhat less than orderly crowd of clubs interested in paying the price would appear at the Anfield gates. The problem is of course, that this diminutive bundle of undoubted talent comes with what is often described as “baggage.”
Even before the little striker arrived at Liverpool, there were issues in his past. Some may recall him punching a ball off the line in a World Cup match in South Africa; a move that eventually got Uruguay off the hook against Ghana and saw them progress – who said cheats don’t prosper. OK, I appreciate that many players have done similar things in big games, but biting a player is a little more of a specialised activity. Whilst playing for Ajax, Suarez bit an opponent in a Dutch game, and took a substantial ban from the authorities. This was the player secured by the then Reds manager, Kenny Dalglish.
Most of British football fans were less than fully cognoscente of Suarez’s history when he arrived at Anfield however, and the sort of performance that he quickly started to deliver was of the level wherein fans would be prepared to forgive and forget most things anyway. Not only was he bursting with ability, the desire and commitment shone through. His ability and goals prompted Liverpool fans to think that here was the man to take them back to the glory days. Here was the long-awaited heir apparent to Fowler, Rush, Owen and even to Dalglish himself.
Never appreciated by opposing fans in quite the same way as the Kop adored him, the less attractive side of his character was still bubbling away however. Without going into too much detail of the incident, the race issue with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra was a warning of things to come. Even after serving a lengthy ban for the incident, Suarez compounded the problem by shunning the hand of reconciliation offered by the French player in a game shortly after the Uruguayan’s return to action. Then, towards the end of last season, Suarez went back for second helpings, by biting the arm of Chelsea’s Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic. It was probably fortunate for Suarez that the teak tough centre back was too aghast at what had happened to exact muscular retribution.
In both the Evra and Ivanovic imbroglios, Liverpool stood by their man. Latterly widely accepted to have been a case of going too far in the Evra scenario, it nevertheless demonstrated a commitment to the player by the club hierarchy. Even after the second biting, Liverpool stood front and centre in studied defence of their player. It must therefore be intensely galling now, to have such steadfast loyalty thrown back in their faces. Although I cannot say that I have first hand evidence of it, I’ve heard that during Suarez’s appearance in Steven Gerrard’s testimonial match, the Liverpool fans were extremely supportive of the player, but sadly that this was not even acknowledged by Suarez.
With Suarez apparently determined to leave the club, the last few weeks must have been difficult for Liverpool. Whilst giving out all of the appropriate noises that there is no way they will sell him, it’s difficult to imagine that within the coterie of Anfield hierarchy, there’s not an acceptance that the player’s race is run at the club. Press reports are now suggesting that the protracted transfer saga may have some light at the end of the tunnel. Manager Brendan Rodgers is issuing the ‘no-one is bigger than the club’ sort of statements and ‘not keeping to the standards required by the club.’ Whilst this is only indicative, rather than definitive of course, it may be the first moves in accepting what most people see as the inevitable parting of the ways.
With Arsenal apparently waiting in the wings, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Suarez will kick off next season in north London. Arsene Wenger is a manager of rare talent and huge experience. Should the move to the Emirates happen, it will be interesting to see how he deals with the sublime skill and frustrating menace of Luis Suarez.