So it’s settled then. Luis Suarez is set to join Barcelona for a deal worth £75 million. For a lot of Liverpool fans it is and will remain a divisive issue over the coming season as to whether selling our best player leaves us in a weaker or ironically stronger position over the next twelve months.
Suarez all but won Liverpool the league single handedly last season, the overwhelming momentum of his goals and how he scored them providing a newly adrenalized muse for football pundits, fans and critics up and down the land.
A lot of people in the press and on social media are already bandying round superlatives like irreplaceable, invaluable and incomparable. If he were simply to be judged on his football alone, his brilliance and spontaneity in front of goal, work rate and passion for the team it’s hard to disagree with that.
A statement released by the club last Friday afternoon thanked Suarez for helping Liverpool return to the Champion’s League and wished him and his family all the best in the future. The man himself offered this statement.
“It is with a heavy heart that I leave Liverpool for a new life and new challenges in Spain. Both me and my family have fallen in love with this club and with the city.
“But most of all I have fallen in love with the incredible fans. You have always supported me and we, as a family, will never forget it, we will always be Liverpool supporters.
“I hope you can all understand why I have made this decision. This club did all they could to get me to stay, but playing and living in Spain, where my wife’s family live, is a lifelong dream and ambition. I believe now the timing is right.
“I wish Brendan Rodgers and the team well for the future. The club is in great hands and I’m sure will be successful again next season.
“I am very proud I have played my part in helping to return Liverpool to the elite of the Premier League and in particular back into the Champions League.
“Thank you again for some great moments and memories. You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
I’d probably go along with those sentiments if it wasn’t for the fact that Suarez who has quite clearly forced his way out of the club rather than being the victim of circumstances he’d have most people believe genuinely makes me shake my head at the social niceties, cynicism and hypocrisy which lies behind the gesture and the modern game in general.
The tears he shed after the 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, which effectively ended Liverpool’s title hopes last season and the image of Steven Gerrard trying to console him and protectively pushing the cameras away as they left the field was then and is still hard to stomach. I don’t doubt that the pain he felt was acute and sincere as it was for all Liverpool fans as we tried to come to terms with what we’d just witnessed. Only what did the shirt he wore for Liverpool actually mean to him? I don’t think it’s as naive a question as it sounds.
What makes Suarez’s transfer genuinely painful isn’t for me the idea that he’s ‘irreplaceable’ but that I’d actually begun to consider him as going on to take position among the illustrious names of ‘legendary’ strikers such as Hunt, St John, Toshack, Keegan, Dalglish, Rush and Fowler.When Suarez arrived in the wake of Fernando Torres being sold to Chelsea in January 2011 the club was no way near challenging for a top four position let alone the title.
Following the 2008/09 campaign which saw Liverpool finish second to a team from Newton Heath, fans had to watch for two seasons the horror show of Gillet and Hick’s ownership of the club culminate in what almost proved to be the disaster of bankruptcy followed by the soul destroying six month tenure of Roy Hodgson.
It was a low point which kept getting lower, even with the return of Dalglish to the manager’s chair in January 2011 which provided some respite from the gloom of the previous eighteen months, it was clear that the progress Liverpool had made under Benitez had stalled and faltered following the title push of 2008/09.
Suarez’s first goal for Liverpool on his debut against Stoke City in February 2011 where he cooly rounded the keeper before playing the ball into the path of Andy Wilkinson who proceeded to put into his own net was the beginning of a goal haul that by the time he signed for Barcelona saw him score 82 goals in 133 games with a goal ratio of 1.62 per game. Factoring in his eight match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra during the match against Manchester United in October 2011 and the ten match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic during the game against Chelsea in May 2013 and one could easily add another fifteen to twenty goals to that tally.
The controversy surrounding Suarez’s actions during the 2014 World Cup evokes a myriad of strong and at times contradictory emotions.
He’s as close to a sure thing as human genetics can possibly come to the perfect evolution of a player who will score for you each and every single game. Selling him loses Liverpool 30 goals a year and will psychologically impact on a team, which was building from the front and whose best form of defense was attack.
That said, there isn’t a single Liverpool fan who would look to justify Suarez’s bite on Chiellini and his own attempts to mitigate what happened as simply being ‘off-balance’ and falling teeth first into the defender’s shoulder reflects a fundamental lack of character and plain dopiness that is not the Liverpool way.
Did we as fans only idolise the golden calf of Suarez for the goals or was it that we were reminded of an older class and quality of footballer uncorrupted by wealth and star status?
When Ian Rush was sold to Juventus for 3.2 million in 1986 I was crushed as I’m sure were many others at the thought we’d lost our best player and his talismanic moustache. I didn’t quite see it as the beginning of the end, but it felt as though the club had lost someone who was more than just an amazing goalscorer.
Rush, like Suarez was a clinical finisher in front of goal with a devastating turn of pace. He wasn’t as technically gifted and he didn’t have a fancy nickname like El Pistolero, but then that wasn’t important. I never saw Rushie go down from a challenge or fake an injury and then whine about it if the decision wasn’t going his way. Their temperaments were polar opposite. Rush in front of goal played with his head as much as his heart. Suarez’s passion and zeal is undeniable and yet it makes him as much of a liability as it does an asset.
Rush was and still remains a Liverpool legend because his loyalty as a player was self-evident to each and every anonymous face behind the Kop who sang his name. He played for honors and obviously to make lots of money because he was great at what he did, but he also played in the true spirit of Shankly, for ‘the people’.
For the average fan paying over inflated prices on the turnstile, we need to believe in something. What we’re watching has to provide a basic continuity between past and present in the tradition and values of the club, honesty, integrity, loyalty and solidarity. Perhaps someone can try explaining those concepts to Suarez before he posts an ‘open letter’ to the fans explaining how he had no choice but to leave and that it really was best all round to turn his back on the club that essentially made and supported him on the world stage.