There are two types of leader on the football pitch, we are often told. The first is the loud, charismatic figure who roars at his troops, urging them forward with a wild swinging of the arms. The second is the quiet one. The one who goes about his business with as little fuss as possible, but leads those around him by his mere presence.
No one had considered Luis Suarez a leader. If anything, the forward was very much the opposite. Suarez needed to be led.
However, the Uruguayan’s performances in the Premier League this season mean that he is fast becoming this second type of leader: the leader by example. But this is the last phrase that one would have associated with Suarez time last year.
The 21st of April 2013. That was the day when Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic. The immediate reaction by many was that Suarez wouldn’t play for Liverpool again.
He just couldn’t.
He’d already done enough damage to the reputation of the club after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra. Dalglish had supported the Uruguayan throughout the affair. And Dalglish had fallen on his sword. The ownership simply couldn’t allow the club to be dragged any further into the mire.
And they were given a way out. Arsenal offered £40m for the forward last summer. But John W. Henry knew where he wanted to take the club, and he knew the quality that Suarez possessed. How different a season it could have been for both if Liverpool had buckled.
It’d be difficult to overstate the role that Suarez has played in his team’s unlikeliest of title challenges. He’s the top scorer in the Premier League with more goals (29) than games (27). And he also leads the charts for assists with 11. In terms of key passes per game, Suarez is only bettered by Mesut Ozil and David Silva, two players who you’d expect to make more key passes given the positions in which they operate and their shared penchant for the through ball.
However, Suarez’ contribution is not only about the direct. We must consider the indirect also. Having your best player on the pitch and your hardest worker as the same man provides Liverpool with a potent combination.
Often, the most talented don’t feel the need to work. They know they’re good, so why should they have to constantly prove it? Work is for those with lesser capabilities. The gifted’s energy is reserved for the special, it’s the average who need to do the work.
However, Suarez has a motivation rarely found in those with the greatest talent. He adores work. He needs it. Work gets him the ball back, time and time again. And it’s work that gives him the opportunity to do the special more regularly.
Any team that includes a player with this kind of incessant work rate can only be better for it. The attitude is contagious. Teammates are inspired to increase their effort through sheer guilt.
However, when this kind of work rate is exemplified by the team’s most talented player, the potential benefits are exponential.
It creates a new norm. If a player as talented as Suarez does x amount of work, then x becomes the very least that is expected of everyone else.
This kind of leadership by example is of great benefit to Brendand Rodgers. The Liverpool manager need only point to Luis Suarez in order to communicate what is expected to his players.
If Arsenal had managed to acquire Suarez, it’s very likely that they’d still be leading the league on virtue of his goals alone. But what’s more, it’s also very difficult to imagine Arsenal folding as often as they did if they had a player like Luis Suarez on the pitch.
As it’s transpired, Suarez has become a leader by example and Liverpool are top of the league with six games to go. This time last year, it’s hard to know which would have seemed more unlikely.