On 20th December 2013 Luis Suarez signed a new contract with Liverpool that not only raised his wages but purported to keep him on Merseyside until 2018. Twitter was awash with back-slapping Liverpudlians, proudly proclaiming that Christmas had come early, and taking every opportunity to taunt The Arsenal, who had infamously bid for Suarez back in August. It wasn’t just Koppites gleefully asking us what we planned smoking over the festive period, it was also cue for the start of a full-blown media love in about the careful husbandry of Liverpool, of the strength of John Henry, of the ambition of Rodgers and the sublimity of Suarez’s play. Suarez’s breath-taking partnership with Sturridge and Sterling had not only seen Liverpool climb towards the top of the table, but had also seen the UK Media forget all about the sanctimonious attitudes they’d adopted back in March when once again Suarez was persona non grata, not this time for racial abuse, but for baring his teeth at Ivanovic. It was a remarkable Volta-face by the press. Not swayed by any Christmas spirit, Scrooge-like I couldn’t help posting this on Twitter that day.
Clever from Suarez and LFC. He needed a buy-out clause, they couldn’t risk selling below market value. The vultures will circle now.
What I didn’t know then of course was that Suarez’s brilliance would take Liverpool to the very brink of Premier League success, for I thought it likely that Liverpool would probably finish 5th or 6th in the table. The memory of our comfortable 2-0 win over them was still fresh in the mind, and their defensive frailties looked enough to keep them out of Champions League contention. What did rankle though was the constant reminder that we had come so close to signing him (we would have been out of sight by New Year’s Day if we had) but also the very real suspicion that had we done so it would have caused a storm of opprobrium that The Arsenal would perhaps never recovered from. For that alone it is worth replaying the events of last summer one last time.
At some stage The Arsenal got wind of the fact that Suarez had a release clause in his contract, and that a bid of £40 million would be enough to secure his services. It seemed likely that those close to the player had whispered the information into a few ears, and it was Arsene Wenger who decided to act on it. This was a fine footballing decision, but a bold move nonetheless. Suarez had been in trouble before and he was in trouble now. He was not yet half-way through a ten match ban, but more importantly his past misdemeanors were regularly paraded by English journalists: at the time Suarez was not a popular figure at all, and I suspect that had he come to The Arsenal he would have remained unpopular, and that the club would have been slated for encouraging racism, for turning a blind eye to any kind of sporting morality, and for having a manager whose very Frenchness guaranteed that he’d never understand the concept of fair play. Never a universally liked club in the press, I suspect that had Suarez fired The Arsenal to Premier League success we would have become the Millwall of the 21st Century: nobody likes us and we don’t care. Despite all of this, Wenger knew that Suarez was a player of a lifetime, one of the elite top four (Messi, Ronaldo and Bale are the others) currently playing with the ability to single-handedly change the course of a game – and to do so on a regular basis.
No stranger to unusual transfer fees, having paid the unusual sum in 1975 of £333,333 and 34 pence to Newcastle United for Malcolm Macdonald (the 34 pennies to ensure that the fee was exactly over a third of a million pounds), Arsenal managed to enrage all Liverpool supporters with the cheeky extra pound that would trigger the transfer clause.
Many have suggested that it was that pound that caused John Henry to dig his heels in, but I suspect it more likely that he knew that £40 million was at the very least 30 million less than Suarez was worth, and that sum of money was indeed worth playing hard ball over. Whatever the truth, the saga rumbled on for weeks, before Arsenal finally admitted defeat and realized that they would have to spend one more season without a top, top predatory goal scorer.
It was a shame, but there it was. But what few could have predicted was that it was the fact (and the way) that the Arsenal bid for him that caused the Suarez revisionism among the UK media, and it was this that eventually stuck in the throat. He soon became a reformed character in their eyes, and this was all down to Brendan Rodgers and Stevie Gerrard.
Even more strangely Liverpool were cast in the role of Cinderella club, fighting bravely against impossible odds, and their astonishing run of form after Christmas and through the early Spring became a thing of national celebration. And somehow, every goal that Suarez scored, every point that he helped secure gave someone, somewhere an opportunity to sneer at The Arsenal.
I for one couldn’t stand it: couldn’t stand the way he put us to the sword in that 5-1 trouncing, couldn’t stand it that when Chelsea did much the same thing to us it was somehow the spirit of Suarez that was invoked, couldn’t bear it that all I could hear was Suarez, Suarez, Suarez. The very name mocked all I did, for every time it was uttered by press or pundit it allowed them simultaneously to sneer at Arsene. And the worst thing of all was that I could see how brilliant he was. Quite simply he is one of the best I have ever seen, a genius footballer who makes the impossible happen on a regular basis, and it galled me beyond belief that I couldn’t enjoy his skill, not because I objected to him as a person but because he wasn’t an Arsenal player and that everything he did diminished us. I had much the same problem with Gareth Bale, but despite his appalling team, the media adulation didn’t bother me nearly as much, and so I found it easier to cope with his successes. I suppose it was because he wasn’t playing for a direct rival really.
Shortly before the England-Uruguay match I said to a friend that I knew Suarez would score the goal that would beat us but that I hoped he did it in such an underhand way it would turn the media against him again (I felt that this would harm Liverpool somehow, such is my inability to see anything except through my Arsenal lens). Well, it didn’t work out quite like that, but in a way I got my wish.
It now seems as if he is off to Spain, just as I suspected he would be back in December. And despite the huge fee that Liverpool will receive from his sale they will be weaker without him, just as Spurs were weaker without Bale. Players like that cannot be replaced: they are that good, they make all the difference, and I hate it when other sides in the Premier League have them and we don’t, if only because it makes me at times resent my own players for not being in that stratospheric class.
So now I can look forward to the coming season knowing that I won’t have to have endure such a sickening medial love-in about a player I had once so shamefully coveted, but that I can also enjoy watching him play again on a regular basis, or at least until we once again face Barcelona in the Champions League.
Today’s post was by @foreverheady