Luis Suarez: What happens now?
The question was who would blink first?
Would Arsenal up their offer? Would Liverpool decide it’s better to cash in now rather than hold onto an unhappy player? Or would Suarez bite the bullet and hand in a transfer request?
As it transpires, none of these have happened just yet, but with Luis Suarez speaking openly and succinctly to the English newspaper The Guardian, he made it clear how we felt about his future (as if we didn’t already know), and also revealed the apparent promise made to him by Liverpool last summer.
His interview with The Guardian was strategic. It was the first time this summer that he carried out an extensive interview outlining his thoughts to an English newspaper. The aim of the interview wasn’t simply to reiterate that he wanted to leave however. The main focus of the piece was to reveal that the club had guaranteed him that he could leave this summer if they failed to achieve Champions League football. By highlighting as much, his tactic was to play the victim card, a card he is all too familiar with. Suarez wanted to shift the spotlight away from his desire to leave, and cast Liverpool as the baddies – that they are the party in the wrong for not keeping their word.
Liverpool’s reaction has been swift and firm. Their owner John Henry has said that Suarez will not be sold. This message has been reinforced in the subsequent days by Brendan Rodgers through the media and while Suarez is currently training away from the first team, Rodgers is of the belief that when he finally settles on the notion that he has to remain where he is, then he will get his head down and reintegrate back into the first team squad.
One could argue that Liverpool are in the wrong in this instance, that if they had made such as agreement with the Uruguayan, then they should honour it. But the question is, was the agreement in place to begin with? One has to believe it was. It would be foolhardy for Suarez to have come out with the statement if it were not true. However, his past misdemeanours make it impossible not to at least slightly doubt the validity of his claim.
It is these past indiscretions that have destroyed any semblance of sympathy the football public could possibly have for the man. Throughout all the public bashing of the player, all the negative PR that he has generated for the club, Liverpool have supported him. Through the racism storm with Patrice Evra and the biting incident with Branislav Ivanovic, as well as amid multiple accusations of ‘simulation’, they have stood by their player. While one could argue that some of this was unwarranted, and perhaps even that their loyalty was at times misguided and ill-judged, ultimately one cannot blame them. This is a world class player; their best player in light of Steven Gerrard’s diminishing powers as he battles Father Time. From a football perspective it made sense to support him. (And there is precedence for supporting a player when perhaps their crime is too grave to demand such backing – just think of Sir Alex Ferguson’s response to Eric Cantona’s assault on a Crystal Palace fan in 1995).
The result of his behaviour though makes it seems like Suarez has spent as much time suspended as he has on the pitch. For a club that has invested so much in a player professionally, personally and financially, surely they deserve some form of loyalty. Sadly, loyalty is a concept lost on the majority of footballers in the modern era, and appealing to the moral instincts of a player with the aforementioned blemishes on his copybook may well prove a lost cause.
And so to Arsenal, currently the only team in the running for Liverpool’s star player. They can offer Suarez what he wants - Champions League football (assuming they safely navigate a tricky looking qualifying tie with Fenerbache). But still, why Arsenal?
This is a club that haven’t maintained a significant title challenge in years. They haven’t won a trophy since 2005. So what’s the attraction for Suarez? Will any form of Champions League football do? Surely the hassle of engineering a move is only worth it if he is going to a club that has the capacity to consistently challenge for the top prizes.
It is highly unlikely that Arsenal will mount a serious title challenge this season and even less likely that they will threaten Europe’s elite. As for the domestic cups, it’s arguable that Liverpool have as much of a chance of winning one as Arsenal.
On the face of it, Arsenal have had a stable summer. It’s unusual for them to be in the process of bidding for top quality players, rather than their more traditional summer stance of attempting to swat off potential suitors for their star players. This year they haven’t had that distraction, but I would argue it’s because Arsenal no longer have the sort of player in their ranks that the top clubs in Europe want to buy. Santi Cazorla aside, this is light years away from the strongest squad Wenger has ever assembled.
So, we’re back to the original question – why would Suarez swap Anfield for the Emirates? Perhaps he thinks he is of sufficient quality to elevate the Arsenal squad beyond their recent achievements? Maybe he thinks he can turn them into genuine title challengers (even winners?). And maybe the allure of Champions League football is so strong that he will take it in almost any guise.
More likely I believe, is that Suarez was making eyes at Real Madrid. That’s the move he wanted. Unfortunately for him, Real Madrid are focused on Gareth Bale (bizarrely, given it is a centre forward they should be chasing). And if (more probably when) they get Bale, one has to think that that will be their transfer budget for the summer decimated. Going to Arsenal would technically deliver what Suarez wants, but one can’t help but feel that his gaze is set on Madrid. And therein lies a potential second reason as to why he went to The Guardian: by going so public with his desire to leave perhaps he also hoped to flush out other interested clubs, clubs like Real Madrid. Time will tell if this is the case and if he gets the reaction he desires.
Either way it seems that the striker’s mind is made up. He wants to play at a higher level than Liverpool can currently offer. Arsenal can just about provide that, but if that is to be his destination it seems like nothing more than a stopgap move for him. A sideways step, to a football club only marginally at a higher level than Liverpool. Sure, he’d have a few nights out in Europe but at this stage of his career and with his ability, should he not be looking to move to a club that can compete for the top prizes, rather than merely participate? You get the sense that if he went there, he’d stay for a season, perhaps two. But it won’t be long before he decides that the level they can offer is beneath him too.
One would suggest that he would have been best keeping his head down for now.
He should have shown a sense of loyalty to Liverpool, and repaid the faith shown in him by an institution loved across the world (rather than have Liverpool attempt to force him to honour his contract). He should have given them one more season and if they did not get Champions League football, then move on to a club that is guaranteed to challenge at that level. And maybe he would have only had to stay until January at which point he wouldn’t be cup tied for the Champions League if a team were to show an interest then. I’m sure Liverpool would have understood him leaving if they were unlikely to challenge for a top four finish following a subpar opening half to the season.
That might have went some way to repairing his tarnished public image. He could have walked away with his head held high. That’s not how he operates though. Liverpool deserve better.