The summer at The Emirates seemed something more akin to lost pages from an old rom-com than a footballing transfer as Arsenal and Luis Suarez became involved in a taut “will they or won’t they?” In the end, of course, the Merseysiders felt it preposterous to offload one of their brightest talents to a direct title challenger and the Uruguay international remained under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers. And with that, El Pistolero has become the Premier League’s most-feared marksman with 23 goals to his name already this season. And it wouldn’t be unfair to wonder if Suarez would be churning out the same amount of goals had he decided to continue his professional career elsewhere – after all, he’s used to Liverpool’s style of play and has gelled quite well with his fellow team-mates over the seasons. Indeed, it has to be said, it’s difficult to imagine that the headline-grabbing striker would have had so much success had he gone to Spain’s Real Madrid or even over to the Gunners. For all the controversy he’s used to, leaving after the whole club had stood by him following his incident with Branislav Ivanovic would surely have disrupted his frame of mind and, in turn, his football. After all is said and done, Suarez’s decision to stay on has certainly benefited his performances in a way that even his most die-hard admirers failed to see coming.
Building a side around a pillar as unstable and prone to creating discord as Suarez was certainly a massive gamble to take and one that’s been well-documented as game-changing for many Liverpudlians. And while it may yet be regarded as a failure if Liverpool don’t get their hands on some silverware soon, it still seems like the best potential move the perennial underachievers could have made back in August. Suarez staying on has not only seen his displays improve consistently but it’s also bought the Reds some time to plan for the future. Clearly, Daniel Sturridge’s performance in the initial half a dozen games were very vital but the return of their main striker saw the Kop faithful witness a team filled with an energy and conviction that would have taken years to develop had they sold him and began developing for the future. In short, essentially building a team around Suarez has lead to Rodgers’ charges regaining the sense of entitlement that had been lost for so many years. By fashioning a side around their No7 Liverpool have also built up their confidence and the way they are feared and respected by those around them.
Make no mistake, staying at Liverpool was partly a selfish decision. While his agent may well have bemoaned the 27-year-old opting to refuse a big-money transfer to pastures new, his head coach for the national team is likely to have breathed a huge sigh of relief. With the goal-scoring machine out of European action for the season, it gives him more time to rest up ahead of the World Cup and is more likely to feel fresher and full of gusto by the time June rolls around. Less playing time at the top level means less chance of accruing injuries and more of a chance of picking up the player of the tournament award in Brazil, or even the golden boot. The more one looks at it, the wiser and wiser the decision becomes. Granted, Oscar Tabarez will feel more at ease closer to the date when Suarez is togging out for their opening Group D fixture against Costa Rica but the signs look good for the moment. Having tatsed success in 1930 and again 20 years later, this year is one of the most encouraging build-ups to a World Cup campaign that Uruguayan fans have witnessed. Of course, in 2010 they looked good value for money but they simply couldn’t push all the way. Now with one of the continent’s top scorers in their team, they might just feel buoyed enough to pull of a few shocks along the way.
With Liverpool still not out of the title chase, it’s Suarez’s performances that have seen them maintain contact. His glut of goals has also seen him continue to draw attention to himself from foreign suitors – if anything, he’s more sought after now than ever before. And although it’s possible that the Uruguayan will stay on at Anfield should Liverpool secure Champions League football ahead of next season, it’s still comforting for him to know that he can jump ship should his club’s plan fail. As one of the world’s most talented and in-form strikers he would likely have his pick of clubs.
Last season, it seemed that he could do no right in a Liverpool shirt as controversy and negativity persisted in following him. It was almost as if he was drawn to it and some fans began to speculate whether it would be a good idea to sell him off before he caused too much damage to the club. What a difference a summer makes. With his ban well and truly behind him, the attacker has grown in stature and maturity as the season has gone on. No longer does he make it into the papers for his ill deeds or his poor judgement but rather for his sublime touch and his breathtaking goals. Hard work, charity work and tenacity has seen Suarez turn his back on his old self as he looks to make a name for himself on the pitch as well as off it. Staying at Liverpool allowed him the chance to do exactly that because the manager and players were willing to stand by him, and they were keen to ensure the loyalty they showed to him rubbed off. And it seems to have worked so far.
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