IN this two-part special I take a look at the man making all the headlines for the right reasons so far this season in the Premier League – Liverpool’s latest jewel to wear the sacred no.7 shirt: Luis Suarez.
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.
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 – the man Suarez had 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.
Return back to L4L tomorrow to read the second installment of King Luis: Liverpool’s Latest no.7 Jewel