Luis Suarez and the injury that has Uruguay and Liverpool on tenterhooks
Luis Suarez has raked up another firestorm - this time though, he's done no wrong. Last Thursday, the Uruguayan Football Federation declared that Suarez had complained of knee pain in training, and his problem was diagnosed as meniscus damage. Surgery was performed to correct the problem, and the federation noted that the injury might have been picked up against Newcastle. A random challenge by Welsh defender Paul Dummett could end the World Cup hopes of Latin America’s most consistent team. Butterfly effect at work?
Dummett has since received considerable hate on social media (as well as a Wales call-up). Not everyone was upset though: England captain Steven Gerrard suggested that he wouldn’t mind Suarez taking his time over the recovery.
"From a really selfish point of view it would really help England if he was not available, of course it would," said Gerrard. "I know him personally and I wish him well...The final group game and then Liverpool would be fine.”
It’s not hard to see why Gerrard hopes that Suarez will delay his return. As an opponent in Brazil and teammate at Liverpool, he is doubly anxious that Suarez is well-rested this summer.
No one can begrudge him that break; few footballers have been as continuously active as Suarez has since joining Liverpool. In addition to the Premier League and Cup competitions, he's been on Uruguay duty every summer - when Uruguay won Copa America in 2011, he was voted Player of the Tournament; he captained the team in the London Olympics; and last summer he dragged the side to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, where they lost 1-2 to eventual champions Brazil.
Despite the rigours of the Premier League, he's never missed a game for Liverpool through injury, and has arguably the highest work rate of any EPL forward. It's hugely ironic that he has chosen the World Cup, the biggest stage of them all, to miss a few games.
Given their recent tournament form, Uruguay appear formidable. Semi-finalists at the last World Cup, at the Confeds and reigning Latin American champions. But Uruguay's midfield is ageing and the defence is suspect. Coach Oscar Tabarez is hugely dependent on his attackers to outscore other sides, and with Diego Forlan fading, the burden on Suarez and Edinson Cavani is immense.
Suarez is Uruguay's all-time record goalscorer, and the more creative of the two. As a striker he's the complete package - he can dribble, score, assist; he possesses the muscle, energy and smarts to play anywhere on the pitch. In short, Suarez is very much Uruguay’s mojo. If they are going to get anywhere near the quarters, the man from Salto has to be firing on all cylinders - and Uruguay will be anxious to ensure he does. Liverpool will be equally anxious that he takes things easy.
Those who look for straws in the wind might recall that Fernando Torres had a meniscus surgery – the same as Suarez will now - just before the 2010 World Cup, and his cooling-off took nearly 7 weeks. There isn't a specific turning point in his downturn, but the pre-surgery Torres scored 22 goals that season. By the start of the 2010-11 season he had lost most of his acceleration, and suffered recurring hamstring and hernia issues. It was a tragic blow.
Suarez inherited Torres' mantle at Anfield, and Liverpool's worry here is that history might repeat itself - this time as farce. If Uruguay rush back an unfit Suarez for the World Cup, it could worsen his injury, causing him to miss matches next season. The Reds have the resources to cope without Suarez, as they proved at the start of 2013-14. But with Champions League football looming, they will want their most valuable asset at full pace and snapping at defenders' heels (though perhaps not their arms). As the World Cup approaches, it’s likely Gerrard isn’t the only LFC fan hoping Uruguay’s star watches most of the tournament from the stands.