Liverpool forward Luis Suarez has been repeatedly linked with a summer move away from the club, with both Manchester City and Bayern Munich interested in securing his signature after his best season at Anfield, but what impact would this have on the rest of the side?
The 26-year-old Uruguayan international very nearly helped his side pull off a remarkable comeback in the Europa League aggregate defeat to Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg in midweek and with 18 goals in 26 league appearances and 26 goals in 38 appearances across all competitions this season, his goals alone guarantee him an importance no other aside from perhaps Steven Gerrard enjoys. This is by far his most prolific season at the club and his ability for the first half of the campaign to play as an out-and-out striker has only been matched by his versatility to adapt to a number of other roles since January and the astute acquisition of Daniel Sturridge, a player he appears to be enjoying a flourishing relationship with.
Nevertheless, with just 11 league games left to play and Liverpool sat as low as eighth place in the table, nine points adrift of Tottenham in fourth place, inevitably, just so long as the club continue to underachieve in a historical sense at least, then they will continue to attract attention for their best players, and while they may charge a pretty penny, as they have shown by selling both Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in the past, they are not averse to striking a deal if the price is right.
The loss of Alonso under Rafa Benitez has largely been seen as a pivotal turning point in the club’s recent history from which they’ve never quite recovered while the Spaniard has gone on to great success at Real Madrid. They’ve been robbed of his class both on and off the ball and the team’s midfield has never retained the same control, particularly in big games, ever since his departure. Losing Suarez in the summer could be regarded as just as massive a blow to the overall scheme of things when we look back on it in years to come, and they must at the very least, with a relatively kind fixture list between now and the end of the season, secure Europa League football again next season.
Rodgers told the Daily Mail last week that he anticipates a summer of busy transfer activity regarding players he wants to keep, stating: “Even clubs that have won the league are faced with having to keep hold of their players. So there’s always going to be speculation about players here and we expect that to happen again.”
Meanwhile, Suarez, who signed a new ‘long-term’ deal just this summer gone, maintains that he is committed to the cause, stating right at the end of the January transfer window: “I hope [to be at Liverpool] for a very long time because it’s a massive club that kids dream about playing for. I’ve been very proud to be at a club like Liverpool and to have made the decision to come here.
“In two years I’ve lived through some spectacular and very special moments that I will never, ever forget. There have been a few difficult times as well, but with the support of my family, the club and the fans, things have gone well for me. I do feel at home here.”
Of course, when Suarez refers to those ‘difficult times’, he’s clearly talking about the racism scandal that not only engulfed his season last year after being found guilty by the FA and handed an eight-game ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, but it completely took over the entire club’s campaign. In the end, it claimed many victims at the club, some who had worked there for years while seriously damaging the team’s global image with sponsors and fans for the way they handled the whole affair, with former manager Kenny Dalglish backing Suarez to the hilt. In that sense, Suarez owes the club for the support he received and to walk away at the first sign of a better offer will render all of the above kind words simply meaningless.
A game of Chicken seems to be taking place now and in the space of a week, Suarez went from claiming he would stay at the club next season even if Champions League football wasn’t on offer, claiming he was very happy, but then on February 7th, he simply told Spanish radio station Marca that he was ‘content for now’. It could be that Suarez is merely angling for a bumper pay rise at the end of the campaign to make him stay, or it could be that links to Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich and the thought of playing under Pep Guardiola next term are proving too tempting to turn down.
It’s a very similar circumstance to the one that Arsenal fans have found themselves in these past few years with their best players continuously linked with moves away in that the first question asked whenever a camera or microphone is put in front of Suarez is about his future next season and this will obviously deal inconsistencies between answers as the campaign wears on. As some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, with the news itself not much has really changed, but it’s then given the headline ‘Suarez considers Liverpool future’ or something in that region which perpetuates the idea that he will leave, even if he’s said nothing of the sort. With the constant attention, though, it can turn a player’s head eventually and have an impact on their performances, as much as they don’t want it to.
Despite the not so subtle overtures of Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini in recent weeks, it will not be Suarez’s goals alone that the side will miss. He has scored or assisted 25 of Liverpool’s 49 league goals this term, but in 26 appearances he has created a staggering 77 chances for his team-mates. In a better side which it looks like they are slowly becoming under Rodgers, he could help lead the club back into the top four but he is such a uniquely gifted player that no matter what fee they receive for him, a replacement would be impossible to find.
Whenever he is pressed on his future, it seems that Suarez is genuinely happy on Merseyside at a club where he is the undoubted top dog and focal point of all their aspirations. Reciprocal loyalty is difficult to find in the games these days and he has a young family settled in the area that he will be unwilling to uproot, but could the club resist a £40m offer from Bayern in the summer? Or for that matter, could Suarez resist the allure of playing regular football at one of the best clubs in the world? Lord knows his talent alone is good enough for that standard, but the road to help Liverpool back to the top looks a long and arduous one and the task is huge, and the easy option is to leave.
In all honesty, Liverpool fans will be hoping, some even praying that Suarez gives them at least one more year just at a time when tangible progress is being made and they are starting to adhere to Rodgers’ style and deliver a brand of potent, exciting and attacking football, but the player’s own personal ambition and desire to test himself at the top could play a part.
While the interest in him this year may have started because of his goals, for those of us that have watched closely for the past few years, he simply has a lot more to offer than that and his departure would devastate Liverpool’s rebuilding job at precisely the wrong time.