11 July 2014

On Luis Suarez

We had the best of times, we had the worst of times.

While at Liverpool, Luis Suarez scored 69 league goals and tallied 23 league assists in three and a half seasons. In all competitions, his total jumps to 82 goals.

While at Liverpool, Luis Suarez was suspended eight games for racial abuse, one game for giving the finger to Fulham fans, two games for yellow card accumulation, 10 games for biting, and has a four-month ban for another bite looming.

While at Liverpool, Luis Suarez became one of the best players in the world, deservedly mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

With Luis Suarez, you get the angel and the devil, each precariously perched on a shoulder. You get Dr Jekyll, the supremely talented footballer, devoted family man, and a player conscientious enough to pen this farewell, and you get Mr Hyde. You remember what Hyde did.

This is no slight (well, a little slight) to Fernando Torres and Michael Owen, but Luis Suarez was the best striker I've seen in a Liverpool shirt. Not the best player – the current club captain still wears that crown – but undoubtedly the best attacker. Suarez's bag of tricks is a mile wide and two miles deep. With Owen and Torres, you knew what you were going to get. They each did it superlatively before injuries robbed them of their powers, but each relied on one trick: overwhelming pace. That was it, and when that pace was gone, they were gone. But Suarez could do everything, anything, scoring goals I'd never dreamed possible. There was no shot too audacious, no nutmeg he couldn't pull off, never too many defenders between him and the goal.

Last season, Suarez won the PFA Player of the Year, FWA Player of the Year, FSF Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Year, Premier League Golden Boot, and tied for the European Golden Shoe. He either scored or assisted 43 of Liverpool's 101 goals – an unthinkable 42.6%.

He's gotten better in every season he's played for Liverpool, and is currently at the apex of his powers.

Since we're here, and since I've got no more use for them, I might as well post these GIFs of Suarez's Premier League goals for Liverpool. Made them about a month ago, then THE BITE PART THREE happened, then this transfer saga happened. Sigh.

Each minute that Luis Suarez played is equivalent to approximately 0.05 seconds in each GIF. The GIFs are each 55 seconds: 48 seconds of "action," seven seconds held on the last frame to catch your breath. There are two GIFs. First, an easy-to-follow chart, with one circle representing each goal and a running total of goals scored, minutes played, and goals per 90 minutes. The second is the familiar pitch view of goals scored that I've used a fair amount over the last few months.

And here is a link to the spreadsheet listing all of his PL goals.

Anyway. Memories are painful sometimes.

This was bound to happen. Sooner or later, bound to happen. I'm actually surprised "sooner" wasn't the case. Players will leave when Real or Barcelona come calling. Especially Spanish-speaking players, and especially those whose wife's family still lives in Barcelona. But pretty much any players. It happened with McManaman and Owen. It happened with Lineker, Beckham, and Bale. It is the nature of the beast. English Premier League, best in the world, etc etc.

Luis Suarez did not leave in the dark of the night to join Chelsea. Luis Suarez did not run down his contract and leave on a free transfer. Liverpool recouped £75m – either the third or fourth highest fee in history depending on the accounting for Neymar's transfer – for a player who's currently banned from all football activity until November. Luis Suarez left after giving Liverpool one of its best seasons in recent history, refusing to sulk after last summer's transfer ordeals.

Of course, I can't help but make the tangential comparison to the summer of 2009, when Xabi Alonso was sold to Real Madrid. And there's also a whiff of "Spurs replacing Bale" in the mix. I trust Liverpool infinitely more than I did in 2009, and infinitely more than Tottenham, but it's still worrisome. Good players are hard to replace. One of the best in the world is even harder.

Make no mistake, whatever his sins, Liverpool are not better off without Suarez. Liverpool will try to replace him with a handful of players, because replacing him with one is impossible. And Liverpool may succeed. But the odds are against them, and what's more likely is a period of adjustment, at best, as a team attempts to form to replace the one player who shone brightest.

Liverpool still have some very good attackers – Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana – and are now more likely to play Rodgers' preferred 4-3-3 formation rather than wedging themselves into the 4-4-2 diamond which Suarez and Sturridge's presence required, because Suarez simply could not play as well when out wide (PS: good luck with that, Barcelona). Liverpool have spent somewhere around £40m so far this summer, and will now spend the Suarez £75m. Brendan Rodgers, with his work both on and off the pitch, has earned the right to have a little bit of trust in this department.

But next season, the season where Liverpool are supposed to push on from its second-place finish, just got a lot harder and a lot scarier.

Good luck at Barcelona, Luis. Thanks for all the memories. The good ones, which will live a very long time, but also the bad ones.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Nate - great balanced write up and frankly I agree with everything written. Two smaller points. (1) Luis was almost NEVER injured, hence his time serving bans is comparable to more injury prone players. (2) We will not get a player at their peak with a tall ceiling. We will only get a player 2-4 years off their peak, or someone close to their ceiling. I could literally see Suarez improve in everything year on year, he improved on free kicks (which Gerrard used to take), assists, corners, shots, accuracy of shots, less wayward passes, less fruitless dribbles. The only thing he seemed never to improve on was penalty taking (which is wierd because Shearer and Ronaldo padded their goal scoring stats by taking penalties) which if Luis wanted to pad his stats he could have (yes i know he took a few early on and missed them).

Yes he was frustrating but without Luis we would not be in the Chempions League and for that reason alone I loved him as a Liverpool football player.