Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has always been a controversial figure. From biting a player on the pitch whilst playing for Ajax, earning him the nickname the cannibal, to crushing the hopes and dreams of an entire continent by handballing on his own goal-line to stop a Ghana goal during the 2010 World Cup, the Liverpool man has broken almost every footballing taboo including being banned for racial abuse last season.
There’s no doubt Suarez has earned his bad boy reputation, but is it time we put the drama to one side and concentrated on the Uruguayan’s achievements this season? He’s in the race for the Premier League Player of the Season award, along with Gareth Bale and Robin Van Persie, but a number of the English game’s talking heads believe the negative stigmatism and an overall dislike of the striker from Premier League fans will hinder his chances of picking up the accolade.
More than anything, Suarez is a player who simply wants to win; he’s willing to break any rule or tacit convention of the English game for the sake of victory, and in the process is happy to rub anyone up the wrong way. The Liverpool man wears his heart on his sleeve, and you can see his desire to win in any given fixture he’s involved in; It’s not his hunger for goals, although that’s arguably how Suarez’s determination comes across positively, it’s the ankle-nipping, shirt-pulling, theatrical diving and regular doses of handbags with members of the opposition.
If the on-pitch antics isn’t enough evidence for you, the Uraguay international has himself admitted that he would sell his own Grandmother for a goal, according to the BBC. But it’s when Suarez’ attitude boils over into the controversial incidents it becomes a problem, and brings out what the striker refers to as the other of his “two different people”.
It was not the handball against Ghana in the World Cup that angered the footballing public, although he picked a rather and unfortantely likeable opponent to perform such a football faux pas against, but it was the celebration when Asamoah Gyan missed the vital penalty, his explosion of euthoria at his own deed paying off, caught on camera, that created such an intense dislike for the striker.
Perhaps it was rather distasteful, but still the act was by no means selfish. Of course, Suarez did not have the healthy spirit of the competition on his mind, but excluding yourself from your country’s semi-final fixture for the sake of the rest of the team is a rather selfless move. It’s hardly his worst crime however, although it did create a lot of preconceptions about the forward before he even made his move to Anfield.
The biggest issue surrounding the Liverpool man is the infamous incident with Patrice Evra. Although the saga ended with mixed opinions over whether Suarez’s abuse carried serious intent or if he said the word out of cultural ignorance, the Support Suarez t-shirt campaign did little to help his own or the club’s image and relationship with English fans.
Forgiving and forgetting is always difficult, and Suarez will always do his best to wind up his opponents and their supporters. But is it time we judged him on his ability and started showing the Liverpool forward some of the respect his performances deserve?
Perhaps last season, I wouldn’t have made the same argument. Although he clearly had ability, Suarez’s lack of goals, 11 in 31 appearances, made the £22million signing seem a solid acquisition, but quite frankly nothing special. However, during Brendan Rodgers inaugural campaign, he’s become a rather talismanic figure in the Liverpool starting XI, and his 29 goals in all competitions have been vital in keeping Liverpool’s season afloat and avoid plummeting into lower-mid table.
His four domestic assists do little justice to just how a creative an element he is for his side. He’s Liverpool’s main outlet going forward, and their first point of attack in terms of trying to break the opposition defence. According to OPTA, Suarez has created 78 chances this season; the third highest in the Premier League; three more than Steven Gerrard and 16 more than Gareth Bale. However, 96% of Suarez’s chances have come in open play, unlike the two midfield stars who have ratios of 62% and 68% respectively. Now that Daniel Sturridge has arrived on the scene at Anfield and gained first team fitness, more of the Uraguayan’s chances should be put away during the remainder of the season.
Suarez’s form has lead to speculation of a move away from Merseyside, linking him with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, most notably Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, with estimates of transfer fees ranging from £40million to £50million. There’s no doubt the Reds’ goal machine is one of the best on the continent, and when considering the mediocrity of Liverpool’s squad, which has spent the most part of the season dipping in and out of form, his feats appear even more impressive than those of Robin Van Persie, who currently has 19 goals to his name compared to Suarez’s 22 in the Premier League, and Gareth Bale, who are both playing for clubs firing on all cylinders and are amid successful campaigns.
Steven Gerrard commented yesterday; “He’s top scorer in the league now and he’s been incredible. I can’t put into words how good he’s been. If he doesn’t win an award this year, he’ll be the best player ever not to win an award. Of course, the opinions of the Liverpool skipper are biased; not only is it his duty to stick up for his team mate and rally support, but he also gets to see Suarez’s ability every day on the training pitch.
Nether the less, he may have a point. Statistically, and in terms of goals, he is the most efficient attacker in the Premier League. Yet, his opportunity to win the Player of the Year award will no doubt be affected by the striker’s past. I’m not suggesting that the controversies get put to one side, as there is clearly a dark side to Suarez’s personality. But if we were to forget about the man as a person and concentrate on sheer footballing ability, he would already be a dead cert for the accolade, despite the current Bale-mania.
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