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.
AS mentioned in pt1 yesterday, 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 Anfield 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 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.
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 ten goals and two assists in twelve 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.
“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 seven 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 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.
Missed pt.1 of King Luis? Read it here
Suarez Career Goal-scoring Stats in Europe and Internationally (IAC)
Groningen 2006/07: 14 goals in 34 appearances
Ajax 2007/2011: 111 goals in 159 appearances
Liverpool 2011/pres: 33 goals in 69 appearances
Uruguay 2007/pres: 28 goals in 54 appearances