Liverpool’s Luis Suarez will always be one of the most controversial footballers the Premier League has ever seen. His rap sheet to date contains a series of incidents that have broken almost every footballing taboo.
The striker burst onto the scene at the 2010 World Cup, but blemished his rave reviews by handballing on his own goal line for Uruguay against Ghana and subsequently celebrated in no humble fashion when Asamoah Gyan missed the following penalty, essentially ending the biggest chance an African team has had in the international tournament throughout my life time, as well as making himself a pantomime villain throughout the continent.
Then, a year later, he arrived at Anfield with a preceding reputation from his 81 goals in the Eredivisie. Suarez’s talent from the offset was impossible to deny, despite his low output during his first two campaigns with the Reds, but it wasn’t long before the Uruguayan was once again in the media for the wrong reasons.
In October 2011, he was accused of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, and subsequently punished by the FA. The eight-match ban still remains a controversial issue for many reasons; Suarez himself claimed cultural ignorance, whilst Liverpool drew criticism for avidly supporting a player, t-shirts and posters to boot, that had openly admitted to using a racial slur, albeit with a different understanding of the word in comparison to the British public.
Some gave Suarez the benefit of the doubt, especially as his form picked up momentum last term. The Reds forward finished up with 23 goals and eight assists in 33 Premier League appearances, and throughout the 2012/2013 campaign won over many of his critics with his talismanic, all round displays. It wasn’t just his output, it was his quality on the ball, his ability to dribble past any opponent, his confidence to take on whole defences on his own, and his undying work-rate and passion to succeed.
Just as the footballing world were debating whether or not such a controversial figure, who had once admitted he’d sell his own grandmother for a goal, and once celebrated a goal by performing a dive in front of David Moyes’ dugout during a Merseyside derby, should be considered for the PFA Player of the Year award, Suarez nipped any hope of winning the individual accolade in the bud by biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in the arm, witnessed by a packed Anfield crowd and the millions watching at home. What’s more, it wasn’t even the first time in the 26 year old’s career he’d bitten someone – in Holland, he’s referred to as ‘The Cannibal of Ajax’ for taking a chunk out of Otman Bakkal with his teeth in 2010.
But for me, it’s Suarez’s actions this summer that will cement his place in the annals of Premier League history as the master of controversy. Throughout his villain role at the 2010 World Cup, his tribunal with the FA and the Ivanovic incident, the Liverpool forward could at least claim that it was the lust for victory, propelled by the loyalty he feels towards his club and international side, that caused him to commit such on-pitch atrocities. That saving grace however, has now gone out the window this summer, as Suarez plots a move to Arsenal.
Even a matter of months ago, the striker’s views were understandable. He insisted that he wanted to leave England behind him due to the intense pressure and scrutiny the British media put on him, and there’s little doubt the claim was true; no newspaper article discussing Suarez could leave out his checkered past, and no facebook feed could be complete without a Suarez meme poking fun at the Uruguayan. At the same time, his hot form made it quite clear that he’d outgrown the Reds, with consistently exceptional displays and prolific end product for a club who had struggled to make it into the top half of the Premier League for the most part of last season.
But the fact Suarez waited until he was about as far away from Merseyside as possible, in Brazil to be precise, to condemn the club for a lack of loyalty and the British press for their bully mentality, suggested that there was far more opportunism to his decision to leave Anfield that met the eye.
Now we are edging into August, and rather than leaving England to take up the opportunity of a life time at Real Madrid, leaving not too many hard feelings behind at Liverpool, Suarez’s priority location is North London, to join up with the Gunners, citing a need to play Champions League football.
But will playing Champions League football, for a side who’ve made it past the quarter-finals just twice since 2000, actually benefit the Uruguayan’s status, or career? He’s already regarded as one of the most talented single entities in Europe, and is already liked with every major club on the continent. Similarly, on the domestic front, the Reds have claimed more silverware than Arsenal in the last eight years, with the Gunners’ trophy cabinet alarmingly bare since their last triumph in 2006, whilst both clubs are still miles away from the Premier League title race with their current rosters.
Overall, Suarez is causing Liverpool a lot of problems for very little personal gain. Arsenal are just about the most insignificant Champions League club out there – constantly rewarding themselves for qualification, but rarely impacting on the competition itself – and in the Premier League they’re amid an almost decade long malaise. Moving to the Emirates won’t give Suarez the opportunity to play with a particularly better or more star-studded cast, and Arsene Wenger is hardly likely to offer the striker a lucrative wage package considering Theo Walcott had to let his contract wind down and play bluff to secure a not particularly competitive £100k per week deal.
What’s more, it shows a disgraceful lack of loyalty towards his current club. Liverpool have constantly stood by Suarez throughout his lust for controversy, and their ‘Support Suarez’ campaign during his eight-match ban for racial abuse undoubtedly contributed to Kenny Dalglish’s decision to step down at the end of the 2011/2012 season.
The Uruguayan’s claim that the Reds haven’t stuck by him enough during the recent biting incident smacks of hypocrisy and delusion – Brendan Rodgers could hardly give him a pat on the back after such a shocking episode, and was right to condemn the striker in public regardless of his status as Liverpool’s only current world-class talent; anything else would have put the club’s integrity into serious disrepute.
Along the way, Suarez’s demeanour has been ungentlemenly to say the least. At one end, he’s refused to make a formal transfer request, in fear of losing out on his contractually tied loyalty bonus, whilst on the other hand and in public, he’s regularly insisted that Brendan Rodgers should adhere to his demands and sell him. He couldn’t even do his club the good grace of keeping the issue behind closed doors, and has used the public domain and the British media to do his bidding, despite insisting they are the ones who conspire against him.
It’s bound to have an effect on the striker’s selling value, despite Liverpool adamantly maintaining that they hold all the cards around the negotiating table. And whilst at one point this summer, it seemed he would at least spare Liverpool some embarrassment by switching to La Liga, he will now be plying his future trade for one of the Reds’ closest divisional rivals, and one of the few teams that stands in their way of Champions League qualification – Rodgers’ ultimate aim that his Anfield tenure will eventually be judged upon.
Suarez is and will always be the epitome of controversy; fans will always feel divided over whether to judge an exceptional player on his footballing ability, or his questionable morality. But for me, the Emirates move is the final straw for a player who people have constantly found excuses for. His lack of loyalty is disturbing, his demeanour this summer despicable, and his careerist mentality is a shocking condemnation of the culture of the modern footballer.
All that fuss, all those bridges burned at Anfield, betraying Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool faithful along the way, for the sake of finishing three places higher in the Premier League, and regular elimination in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The king of controversy strikes again.
Should Suarez be condemned for seeking a move to Arsenal?
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