Liverpool can’t realistically keep Luis Suarez without Champions League football
The question of Luis Suarez’s future is popping up every day in the transfer gossip, and there is growing suspicion that he is amiable to moving to a club in the Champions League. The BBC are quoting Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre as saying that he is 100% confident that Suarez will still be at Liverpool next year, but it is getting increasingly hard to believe that Liverpool is really where Suarez can maximise his talents.
The same article quotes Suarez talking in Uruguay saying, ‘If another team comes around with more prospects of competing in international club competition games, which is willing to have me, they are welcome.’ Not exactly a resounding denial of the rumours.
Clearly, Suarez wants to play in the Champions League, and his form this season shows that he is worthy of competing in the competition. After moving to the club as part of the deadline day binge that also brought Andy Carroll to the club in January 2011, he has now gone two and a half seasons without playing in the world’s elite club competition. If Liverpool keep him this summer, that would stretch out to three and a half years by the end of the 2013/14 season. Is it realistic to expect that a world class striker in his prime will sit patiently by whilst the club drifts around in the Europa League and has never been in the Premier League title chase whilst he has been at there? The issue of loyalty is bound to raise it’s head, references to Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and Liverpool being a ‘massive club’.
The thing is though, on the European scene, they no longer are a big club. They’ve been overtaken by the nouveau riche of Man City and PSG and the resurgent Juventus and Bayern as attractive destinations for players looking to get in to the Champions League. The other problem with the loyalty argument is that Suarez doesn’t owe his stock to being at Liverpool. The club paid £24m for a striker who had already lit up a World Cup and scored 50 goals in a season in Holland. Suarez moved to Liverpool expecting to help them push for league titles and playing in the Champions League. That hasn’t happened. Rather, the club has spent a fortune on gradually ploughing a mid-table furrow.
The reason the timing is a bit delicate is that Liverpool have shown some shoots of recovery under Brendan Rodgers this year and Suarez is playing the best football of his English career. The fans and management feel like Rodgers’ team is making progress towards being competitive again. I’m sure Suarez would feel the same, but you only need to look at their last match to understand his frustrations.
The 3-1 defeat at Southampton was an abysmal performance, a game in which Suarez himself was kept quiet. So why would that make him unsettled? Because it looks as if the club can’t win games without him being the talisman. If he doesn’t do something magical in every game he plays, they struggle for results. Like the 0-2 home loss to West Brom and likewise in the away defeat to Zenit that preceded their European exit. If he doesn’t play well, they don’t win and invariably lose. No one wants to be a one man team.
It’s a similar situation as was faced by Steven Gerrard in 2005 when he was approached by Chelsea. Having dragged his team almost single-handedly to the Champions League title, Gerrard was getting frustrated at Liverpool’s inability to challenge for the Premier League title he craved. Many of the defining moments of that championship run came from Gerrard, but his head was turned by an offer to play for new English champions Chelsea. There, he could win trophies and take his game to the next level. He only turned it down because Liverpool were his boyhood club. Professionally speaking, it was the wrong decision, but it would have been too big of an emotional wrench to leave. Suarez has no such connection.
Although he does seem to genuinely enjoy playing at Anfield, his lack of an emotional affiliation to the club in the manner of Gerrard allows him to make a purely professional decision. He wants to play in the Champions League whilst at his peak, and he can’t do that at Liverpool until the season after next at the earliest. Liverpool have to prove to him that they are ready to finish in the top 4 and meet the promises that they made him. They need to show him that they are suitable for his talents, and the only way they can do that is by getting in to the Champions League.