The biggest test this summer for the Liverpool Football Club and its aspirations of becoming a top 4 team again, not to mention a European force, won’t just be their effort in bringing in quality players unlike last off-season, but mostly in their attempt to keep Luis Suarez at the club.
There’s just one world class player playing for them right now, and that’s the Uruguayan striker, who didn’t show even half of his potential during his first 18 months with the club. Suarez had only 15 goals through his first 45 league matches after arriving from Ajax, while he was able to draw himself a huge red bullseye on his back, winning (justifiably) the reputation of a dirty diver.
Time has gone by, more than half a season, and Suarez is doing just fine. He has reduced the number of times he tries to cheat his way into winning a free kick and a penalty, although the habit will never leave him. As much as it’s hard to stop him when he’s running at a defenders legs with incredible balance keeping him on his feet, it’s hard taking that part of him as well. But referees are no longer ignoring him, and Suarez has one a couple of penalty kicks and some close-ranged set pieces as well.
If it wasn’t for him this season, Liverpool would be fighting against relegation, or possibly just having a meaningless season in the middle of the table, lower half probably, without any chance of reaching Europe. It’s more than likely they remain empty handed this season as well, 5 points behind Arsenal (5th, last league European spot) and 3 points behind rivals Everton. Champions League? Chelsea are 10 points away, with 10 matches left. Hard to imagine Liverpool doing that much better than the Blues in the remaining couple of months.
Suarez is leading the Premier League in scoring with 21 goals in 27 matches, finally producing in the volumes he was paid £22.8 million for in 2010, coming from Ajax after scoring 81 goals in 110 matches for the Dutch club. While there have been those who have doubted his ability to dominate in a tougher league, we’ve learned in the last couple of seasons that A) the EPL isn’t as good as it used to be, and B) Suarez is among the few elite strikers in European football, regardless of what you think of his sportsmanship.
And Liverpool know that if they do lose him (for a lot of money, but still), it might be a blow very difficult to recover from. In order to get great players, you need to spend £30-40-50 million, and it seems that in the competition for those kind of players, Liverpool will always be on the losing side. No prospect of Champions League football, and no willingness to break the bank while the club is still losing money.
The moves made in January seem to be Liverpool’s best transfer window in quite some time. Daniel Sturrdige has always been a good and productive striker when given the chance. Philippe Coutinho is more of a conundrum, but he seems to be, through early impressions, the creative midfielder Liverpool have been missing for quite some time, failing a couple of times in the recruiting process.
Steven Gerrard’s days as a leading player are numbered, despite still not missing a single minute this season. There are some promising young players on the squad, but at the moment, they don’t look like immediate team-changers. Suarez is the man who’ll be pulling the load for the next few seasons, thanks to an improved salary (£120,000) and hopefully, being happy enough to not go look for a new, better team to play for.