Is he playing a dangerous game at Liverpool?

Liverpool’s ability to hang onto Luis Suarez has been the catalyst for their tilt at the Premier League summit this season. The Uruguayan is central to the Merseyside club, and John W. Henry’s insistence on keeping him is probably one of the most telling decisions of his tenure at the club.

It is easy to forget that the enigmatic forward was facing the exit door last summer, in a number of interviews he reiterated his desire to leave with either Real Madrid or Arsenal appearing to be the likely beneficiaries of the move. A summer of uncertainty for Suarez culminated in Arsenal offering a pound over £40m for his services in a bid to trigger the release clause believed to be in his contract.

Six months on and the Uruguayan is still at the club, in fact he is in such a rich vein of form with 24 goals fro his last 23 league appearances that many are seemingly willing to write off his summer exploits.

Liverpool fans have had their faith largely repaid, but is it really all that prudent for the owner to dismiss the saga so publicly? Speaking this weekend at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, in a filmed panel discussion, Henry said Liverpool stood a chance of winning the Premier League title this season, and suggested keeping Suarez had been key to that prospect:

“Luis Suarez is the top scorer in the English Premier League which is arguably the top soccer league in the world,” Henry said.

“And he had a buy-out clause – I don’t know what degree I should go into this – but he had a buy-out clause of £40million – more than 60 million (US) dollars. So Arsenal, one of our prime rivals this year … they offered £40million and one pound for him and triggered his buy-out clause. But what we’ve found over the years is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually not in England, in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving.” 

Henry may just be speaking the truth, but as the owner of Liverpool it doesn’t seem particularly necessary or helpful to be blowing the lid on the whole saga. Suarez can be condemned as a mercenary and much as people like, but to ignore a contractual stipulation places Liverpool on equally shaky ground.

This may not hurt Liverpool while the going is good, but for someone that spoke so openly about leaving in the summer you do wonder whether this will come back to bite when Madrid come calling once more. Last summer it was Liverpool that seemingly had the moral high ground, holding a player to his contract when so many other clubs would buckle. In fact many applauded Henry for his entrenchment given the fact Spurs had folded under similar pressures regarding Gareth Bale.

But as it turns out Liverpool held onto their start striker under false pretences, preventing him from speaking to Arsenal when he was entitled to do so. Henry may have held onto his man for another season, but in terms of the long term happiness of the player this revelation can only do harm.

Real Madrid’s admiration of the player is widely known, and just because they managed to get Bale last summer doesn’t for one minute mean they wont try again for Suarez. Last summer Suarez looked like a spoilt child, but if we have a similar situation this time round the diminutive forward has all the moral ammunition he needs.

It would be naïve to think that Suarez doesn’t still have designs on a move away; the Uruguayan is ambitious and willing to do anything to get his own way. Henry’s revelation just gives the player the ammunition he needs in the future, something that doesn’t seem all that shrewd from a Liverpool perspective.

Whether this was egotistically driven or not, Henry’s comments are unnecessary and unhelpful. Things may be bright for Liverpool at the moment, but don’t be surprised if this comes back to bite them soon.

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