Luis Suarez is a man who polarises opinion, loved by many, hated by others. To Liverpool Football Club, he has become a new talisman who they have supported fully, despite his many misdemeanours. However, his recent comments about wanting to move away from England have seriously challenged the loyalty of Liverpool fans, whilst supporters of other Premier League teams will be delighted to say ‘good riddance’. The real question here is this; are Liverpool better off with him or without him?
Liverpool knew what they were getting in the transfer window of January 2011 when they signed Luis Suarez for a whopping £22.8m from Ajax. 111 goals in 159 games should have been the major talking point of this deal, however there was another side to the story. Suarez had recently been banned for 7 games for biting Ottmar Bakkal on the shoulder and it was during this suspension that Suarez moved to Liverpool in a scenario spookily familiar with today’s goings on(banned for 10 games for biting Branislav Ivanovic on the arm).The Ajax fans gave him a hero’s send off with fireworks in celebration of his achievements there.
Suarez’s rap sheet is pretty lengthy. At the age of 15 he headbutted a referee during a game. Whilst playing for Groningen, he scored 4 goals whilst receiving 3 yellows and 1 red card during a 5 game stretch. Perhaps most famously, he deliberately prevented a winning goal with his hands whilst representing his country in the World Cup of 2010 against Ghana, his celebration when the resulting penalty was saved made things worse. Incidentally, Uruguay ended up losing the semifinal against Holland without the suspended Suarez, perhaps showing his greater influence on their game was sorely missed. Uruguay won the Copa America the next year with Suarez scoring 4 goals and winning the Player of the Tournament trophy.
Since moving to England, the racial dispute with Patrice Evra, which resulted in an 8 match ban(though still disputed by Suarez), turned most opposition fans strongly against him. His admittance of diving against Stoke did his reputation no favours and he was strongly reprimanded by his manager Brendan Rodgers for this. He is often shown to be remonstrating with officials and he received a ban for aiming a middle finger at Fulham fans. He was perhaps unfortunate to be labelled a cheat for his handball that led to Liverpool’s winning goal against Mansfield in the FA Cup, but his reputation was the catalyst for this in my opinion.
Despite all this, prior to this summer’s comments, Liverpool fans would point to 51 goals in 96 games, including some wonder strikes(who will forget his fabulous goal against Newcastle at Anfield). At times he has single handedly won games for Liverpool, although in fairness Liverpool’s results have been favourable at times in his absence. Kenny Dalglish said,”he’s intelligent, he’s had a fantastic education at Ajax.” His national coach Oscar Tabarez described him as, “a great forward, an elite player amongst forwards in the world.” One of my favourite all time players, Marco Van Basten labelled him, “unpredictable, he’s hard to influence but that makes him special.” It’s hard to argue that Van Basten hit the nail on the head.
To understand Suarez, you need to understand his upbringing as I simply do not believe him to be a ‘cheat’ or a ‘thug’. He is the 4th of 7 brothers who played football in the poorest streets of Montevideo. He declined an offer at the age of 11 to attend a youth national team camp as he could not afford football boots. You get the impression that from a young age he learnt to look after himself and developed his unrelenting desire to win.
He undoubtedly has a passion for Liverpool FC, but recent events suggest he may not be around for much longer. It will undoubtedly be a relief to their fans that his interest is to move away from England and not to one of their domestic rivals like another former darling Fernando Torres. The big questions are; do Liverpool fans want him to stay? Can they challenge for a Champions League place without him? Is the club a more settled place without his controversies? How much may a potential new club benefit from his talents?