The hysteria surrounding Luis Suarez reached its peak around the Christmas period, when the Liverpool striker went on a run of 10 goals in four games. It’s not to say there hasn’t been a lot of hype (used in the good way) around the Uruguayan prior to that, but the tail end of 2013 really stoked the fires for that now apparently necessary comparison to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
English football’s audiences have been completely besotted by Suarez’s exploits this season, and not just in front of goal. His unsavoury recent history in the Premier League has been brushed under the carpet and an appreciation for the footballer he is has come to the fore.
The question of whether Suarez stands up to the class of Messi and Ronaldo should firstly eradicate the need to compare each player’s trophy haul. Competitions won can often skew the impression we have of footballers, even allowing others to make up our minds for us.
Lionel Messi is still said to be beneath Diego Maradona and numerous other names who have claimed the tag as the world’s greatest player. Why should a World Cup dictate how good an individual is, or even limit the reach of his footballing qualities if he hasn’t acquired it during his career?
It’s also noteworthy to point out just how much backing Suarez is receiving in the claim to make him an equal to, or only bettered by, La Liga’s two leading names.
The Premier League did this for Gareth Bale last season. At that time, Tottenham’s winger was said to be English football’s star name and a worthy challenge to Messi and Ronaldo, with particular emphasis on the latter.
It speaks of the self-promotion of one’s own product in order to match up to – or create the impression that it’s better than – what is abroad. As good as both Suarez and Bale are, we can’t ignore the influence of the Premier League as the most popular league in the world and its ability to promote its most marketable assets alongside those on the continent.
But that doesn’t take away from what Suarez is likely to achieve this season. Though even if Liverpool win the Premier League title, it won’t solely be because of him. If that were the case, this Liverpool team, who are far from a patch on what Real Madrid, Barcelona or even Manchester City have, would have finished much higher than they did last season. The majority of the team’s good work should be credited to the manager. Rodgers has certainly gone a long way to coach the selfishness out of the Uruguayan.
Suarez is currently on 29 league goals for the season, and that’s having missed the first six league games – another factor many are using to boost the Uruguayan’s status.
But if there’s a legitimate need to remove the discussion of trophies from the topic of the best player in the world, then how do you properly measure it?
Goals and assists make for the easiest tool, but that would wrongly discredit midfielders or defenders who are also worthy of being in the running.
Influence and playing style – which is completely subjective – can also be used to varying degrees. And yet longevity is something that absolutely must be taken on board.
The calls for Suarez to be named alongside Messi and Ronaldo this season as the best in the world have mainly been pushed by the idea that his goal scoring has surpassed both of theirs. A similar case was made for Bale last season following his upturn in goals during the second half of the season.
But that argument ignores players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has more than enough reason to be named the best striker in Europe. The Swede has 25 league goals this season, and if there is an argument that he’s doing it in an inferior league, the fact that his name is completely absent from the discussion once again speaks of the marketing machine and the voice of the Premier League to enhance the reputation of its own players and simultaneously to silence those from other leagues.
Longevity plays a big part, as well as influence. Ronaldo’s long-awaited capture of the Ballon d’Or was dismissed by some quarters primarily because of the latter. His influence couldn’t see Portugal into the World Cup from the group phase of the qualifiers; and he’s failed to show up on a number of occasions in big matches for Real Madrid, with games in the latter stages of the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey final as examples.
While it’s widely accepted that Messi and Ronaldo are the one and two of world football, players like Ibrahimovic and Andres Iniesta should be considered for the third spot due to what they have done and importantly influenced in their careers.
Suarez may be doing what Franck Ribery did last season, just simply without the quality of the surrounding cast the Frenchman had at Bayern. But if asked the question whether Ribery is the third best footballer in the world, or even within touching distance of Messi and Ronaldo, the answer would generally be no – and not just because his goals don’t match up.
There is certainly a case to be made that Philipp Lahm should have been voted ahead of Ribery. The German’s influence arguably held a greater bearing on the team than Ribery’s goals and assists. Lahm is also comfortably one of the world’s best full-backs, and has been for many years.
Suarez may be on his way, he may be playing football worthy of consideration for the Ballon d’Or. But it is based on one year; the award doesn’t take into consideration a span of four or five years. A win of the individual accolade isn’t enough to launch a player’s name onto the level where Ronaldo and Messi stand.
As good as a player is, to be rightly named within touching distance of Ronaldo and Messi, he has to maintain that level for a number of seasons.