There’s no going back now. Luis Suarez is officially a Barcelona player. And In my opinion, £75million for someone who has bitten three opponents in the space of four years, regardless of his world-class quality, certainly isn’t a bad deal.
But not everybody Liverpool supporter necessarily subscribes to that theory, and in some respects there are daunting question marks hanging over Anfield. Real Madrid paid £12million more for Gareth Bale last summer, a forward who, albeit two years Suarez’s junior, ended his ultimate Premier League campaign with ten goals and five assists less than the potent Uruguayan.
Likewise, why can’t a club with such an enormous history as Liverpool, who finished second in the Premier League last year and have now returned back to the promised land of the Champions League, keep hold of their most valuable first team asset?
The pulling power of the Nou Camp has to be considered, but what was the ultimate factor? Did the 27 year-old become too talismanic at Anfield? Did Liverpool, after the public relations disaster at last year’s Confederations Cup, come to the conclusion that their summer could be better spent making new signings rather than convincing the Uruguay international to stay on Merseyside?
Equally, did the Reds decide that, upon digging his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder at the World Cup, the double-edged sword that is Luis Suarez just wasn’t worth further damaging club’s reputation for? Did they see little point in prolonging the inevitable by preventing a world-class player from joining a world-class team? Did the feel that the right deal that wouldn’t lose them face had finally come along?
In my opinion, it was an amalgamation of all the above causes, but can be summarised in one simple statement, paraphrasing Brendan Rodgers himself; simply put, Luis Suarez became bigger than Liverpool.
In some senses, this occurred naturally, as it has for countless players whose form and quality eventually sees them outgrow their surroundings. Not only was Suarez Liverpool’s top scorer and second-top creator last season, with his 31 goals and 12 assists making him in some way responsible for 43% of all Liverpool’s 101 league goals, but he also completed the second-most dribbles per match (2.8)and the fifth-most key passes per match (2.6) of any Premier League player. Needless to say, with the exception of Raheem Sterling who also produced 2.8 dribbles, these were by far the best returns of the Anfield roster.
Furthermore, over the last few years, a trend has developed of La Liga’s giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, prizing away the Premier League’s top talents. After claiming the Player of the Year award for 2013, the same accolade Suarez claimed this season, Real Madrid splashed out a world-record sum on Gareth Bale. The year before, Los Blancos paid £33million for Tottenham’s Luka Modric whilst Barcelona invested £15million in Arsenal’s Alex Song – two of the English top flight’s most in-form central midfielders during the 2011/12 campaign.
Indeed, it appears that if you excel in the Premier League, which Suarez has now done for two straight seasons, the only higher career path one can take is moving to either the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu.
But whilst that route of individual progress – the natural desire to play at the highest level possible, for the biggest salary possible – has become an inevitable part of the modern game, the other manner in which Suarez’s monolithic stature began to exceed Liverpool’s was far more contrived.
In short, there’s only so long a club can apologise and accommodate for such a controversial, often malicious player before they start to feel betrayed. When the Uruguayan racially abused Patrice Evra in 2011, Liverpool’s reputation took a huge knock, all the more so for their Support Suarez T-shirt campaign. When he bit Branislav Ivanovic in 2013, once again, it was the Reds’ morality, as well as Suarez’s own, that was called into question.
So when the Cannibal of Ajax, Merseyside and now Rio made Chiellini his latest victim, there was no debate that Suarez had now become an uncontrollable liability with the power to do Liverpool as much harm as good. He had become an individual, unable to be effectively shackled and muzzled, that clearly would only answer to himself.
As any manager will tell you, a player who feels unaccountable – either through superior, imbalanced quality or an unhealthy mentality – is a very dangerous thing.
And although Suarez’ world-class status in an otherwise unexceptional Liverpool squad tells its own story, it’s the Uruguayan’s disregard for responsibility that made him bigger than the Anfield club and his move to Barcelona inevitable.