Turbulent season for Liverpool
THE enduring image from the 'Being Liverpool' documentary series was of Brendan Rodgers standing in Brendan Rodgers' living room alongside a giant picture of Brendan Rodgers.
After a turbulent season, after accusations of racism, after the FA finding a basis for those accusations, after the rather unhelpful interventions of Kenny Dalglish into the Suarez-Evra affair, after Dalglish's sacking at the end of the season, Being Liverpool was the club's attempt to put its best foot forward.
To a lot of football people it seemed like a potentially dangerous distraction from the job at hand: getting the club of Shankly and Paisley back where it belonged. To the American owners – including club chairman Tom Werner, a former, incredibly successful, television executive – it was a chance to recast the image of the club in a positive light. The early episodes were heavy on images of the players at home with their families. Steven Gerrard and his girls. Luis Suarez with his wife and daughter.
After a season where he was cast as the boogey man of the Premier League, Suarez came across as a friendly, happy-go-lucky, family man who loved his wife and doted on his little daughter. Mission largely accomplished.
Okay, the big talking points out of the series centred on Brendan Rodgers – that giant picture of himself, his mentoring of Jonjo Shelvey, his slap down of an impudent Raheem Sterling – with Suarez in the periphery, but that was kind of the point. Suarez: just a regular nice guy with a phenomenal talent.
Just how phenomenal a talent has become obvious in the months since. Almost single-handedly he has kept Liverpool afloat. To date this season he has scored 23 goals in 33 games (across all competitions) and it's not just the goals, it's the quality of his contribution, his focus, his desire, his unbelievable skill. He's the most talented Liverpool player for a generation. Michael Owen had blistering pace and scored a hatful of goal. The same could be said of Fernando Torres, but Suarez?
The man is a magician. He's utterly compelling to watch on a football pitch. Some of the things he's done this season beggar belief for good and ill and, yes, there's plenty of ill to go around when it comes to Luis Suarez, unfortunately.
There's the accusations of racism from last season. There's the, sometimes ridiculous, diving (plenty of other players dive but that doesn't make it right) and, then, there's the biting.
There can't be anyone left in the country who hasn't seen the incident from last Sunday's game with Chelsea at least once. One is tempted to say that the old Charlie Haughey line, GUBU, applies here. It definitely was grotesque and bizarre; unique and unprecedented it was not. Not when it comes to Suarez. Branislav Ivanovic isn't his first victim. Following an incident during his time at Ajax (just before he was sold to Liverpool) the Dutch daily De Telegraaf christened him the 'cannibal of Ajax'.
If this was the first time he bit an opposing player it'd be bad enough for his reputation, but to do it a second time, well that's nearly terminal. The one saving grace has to be how utterly bizarre the incident was. At that precise moment he can't have been in his right mind. If he was aware of his actions, of the millions watching on TV, of the thousands in the stadium, he surely wouldn't have done what he did.
This isn't a defence of Suarez. This isn't an attempt to justify or excuse his actions. The book should be thrown at him. He shouldn't play again this season and should miss out on at least two or three additional games at the beginning of next season. Liverpool were right to admonish him publicly and fine him a fortnight's wages. Unlike last season when they – and Dalglish – indulged him, they got out in front of the story.
And despite Rodgers' insistence that all players are replaceable, Liverpool have been wise to reject calls for his sale. No matter how much money Liverpool would get from selling Suarez they just aren't going to get another player of his ability to replace him. It's a simple fact. Suarez is up there with the very best in the world right now, operating at a level just below Messi and Ronaldo. He obviously won't win any player of the year awards in England this year, even though, in football terms alone, he should.
Players of his calibre and experience aren't interested in signing for Liverpool any more. Not while they're out of the Champions League and the only way Liverpool will return to the Champions League is to retain Suarez.
Alex Ferguson wouldn't ditch such a genius because he was flawed – he didn't ditch Eric Cantona after all – and Liverpool shouldn't off-load Suarez either.
Being Liverpool with Luis isn't always going to be easy, but it sure beats being Liverpool without him.