Monday, 23 July 2012

Luis Suarez: Try Not To Get Too Attached

It may be wise to gently warn your children not to get too attached to Luis Suarez.

To be clear, by all reliable accounts, Suarez is happy at Liverpool and has no intention whatsoever of asking for a move this summer. However, if Liverpool fans were to be entirely honest with themselves, whether Juventus are able to tempt Suarez away this summer or not, the Uruguayan is extremely unlikely to be a Liverpool player at the start of the 2013-2014 season. As for this time in two years, after the next World Cup, you can almost certainly forget about it.

Suarez is arguably the most naturally gifted attacking player Liverpool have acquired since John Barnes, and given the position we were in at the time, it was a remarkable buy. As such, he's going to attract the interest of the very top European clubs. Currently it seems to be the progressive Italians of Turin who are expressing the interest, in an ambitious attempt to create a Suarez-Van Persie sharp end to their already solid side which went the entire 2011-2012 Serie A season unbeaten.

If Suarez stays, and doing so would mean he will surely have signed a new contract, then his first full, uninterrupted, non-disrupted season at Liverpool will make him the most desired footballer on the planet this time next year, and his value will go through the roof. Among the suitors will doubtlessly be Barcelona, for whom Suarez is a perfect fit in footballing style, and a convenient long-term replacement for David Villa to boot.

Under FSG, Liverpool's only realistic hope of keeping Suarez long-term (and lets forget any notion of Suarez, or indeed any purchased player, 'loving the club') is to become one of the top teams in Europe, and quickly. That would involve qualifying for the Champions League this season, minimum, and John Henry himself has already indicated that no such immediate objective exists. Dalglish was not sacked because his team didn't reach a particular position in the league table. Rather he was identified as not the right man to take this club forward, and Brendan Rodgers was brought in to make a year zero, fresh start at Anfield, and will be given the time to do so.

What has also become clear is at this early stage in the club's rebuilding, while Liverpool remain a developing power, every player has their price. Andy Carroll, for example, is not being touted to clubs explicitly because Brendan Rodgers doesn't rate him as a player, nor consider him incapable of fitting into his style of play. Rather it is part of FSG's preference for Rodgers to identify which members of the squad with the highest market value, and/or the club's highest earners, are non-essential to the team's immediate future. That Andy Carroll, as a young, talented, hyped English footballer, could still command a fee of £20 million despite having barely hit the net in 18 months, will have interested FSG. The question will have been asked of Rodgers whether Carroll is a must-have, and given the system he prefers, the big man would certainly not be a first-pick every week. Therefore, if Liverpool want to invest in the 2-3 (after Borini) signings Rodgers has targeted, he is the obvious, necessary sacrifice.

Suarez doesn't fit into that category, of course. However, when you start getting into the £30 million plus range, any offer has to be at least contemplated, for Liverpool are highly unlikely, even in two or three years time, to be able to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid on a footballing or financial level.

The club's desire to tie Suarez to a new contract this summer is about protecting his transfer value as much as it is about ensuring he stays in a red shirt as long as possible. FSG simply won't allow themselves to be backed into a corner by a player in the manner Arsenal have over Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie in recent seasons, despite the fact Suarez has not yet indicated he wants to leave.

If Luis signs a fresh four-year deal after the Olympics, many will be fooled, as it won't mean he's committed his future to 2016 - it will have just secured a hefty fee for him in a year's time. If the club were taking a not-for-sale approach, Suarez would've been asked to sign on the dotted line before going to the Olympics, and it seems there has been nothing more than polite, preliminary conversation so far. Rodgers has publicaly voiced a desire to get him a new contract,understandably, but it seems the possibility of listening to bids for Suarez, or indeed any other player, has been entertained as part of the year zero approach.

So how much would Liverpool actually miss Luis Suarez?

Of course, any team would miss a player of his ability, and he is realistically irreplaceble on a like-for-like basis. But for a team that hasn't got short-term designs on challenging for the major titles, is having an outstanding superstar in the team really a must-have, when a £35 million fee could be reinvested in key areas of the squad (i.e two forwards instead of one) to ensure that within three years, we have at least made it back to the Champions League?

If LFC adopt that approach, is 4th place attainable within three years and sustainable thereafter? Answer: Yes. If you would consider a 5th place finish next season as progress, then consider that Chelsea's leading scorers last season in the league were Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge, who both managed a modest 11 goals each. The latter will likely seek a move elsewhere this summer. Any team is a sum of parts.

And what about the fans themselves? Would we be losing a club hero? Inevitably, many on Twitter are threatening suicide over a Suarez sale, yet there is a general feeling that Liverpool fans have guarded against getting too attached to the number 7, after what happened with Fernando Torres in 2011. A realistic air of resignation has began to drift over some, and I'd advise the rest to suck it in.

Let's get this out the way. Luis Suarez, for one reason or another, has never received anywhere near the level of adulation that Torres was afforded in his time here. The Spaniard, within six months of being at Anfield, was as worshipped as Gerrard or Carragher. He'd became one of the club's favourite sons, and he just seemed to 'get' LFC, becoming a fine ambassador as well as a goal machine. He's been widely panned since he left for Chelsea, and memories are being clouded and concealed, but Torres, when at Liverpool, may as well have been born into one of the toilets under the Anfield Road End, such was his relationship with the fans. Despite his struggles in the Hodgson months, with Kenny to the rescue and Hicks & Gillett long-gone, Torres' demands to leave the club were genuinely shocking. The lesson must be learnt.

As for Suarez, there's no doubt his unique technical ability combined with his high-effort, all-action style makes him a huge fans' favourite. But whether its his solid, rather than spectacular goal-ratio so far, his irritating tendency to scream and wrythe when brushed, or any sub-conscious awkward feelings over the Evra mess, he isn't quite Kop idol status yet. And with a move away looking so inevitable, sooner or later, there is a suggestion he never should be.

The gut feeling is Suarez will stay for the forthcoming season, but it will only be delaying the inevitable, bar an incredible 2012-2013. The hope must be that Rodgers and FSG are bearing this in mind as they are moulding their long-term strategy.

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