Boo Suarez all you want - he loves it, says Rodgers ahead of United clash
Published 11/01/2013 | 16:19
LIVERPOOL manager Brendan Rodgers believes striker Luis Suarez thrives on the abuse he receives and he would not swap him for Manchester United's Robin van Persie.
The Barclays Premier League's two leading scorers go head-to-head on Sunday at Old Trafford and Suarez is certain to receive a hostile reception.
United fans have not forgiven the Uruguay international after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and then refused to shake the defender's hand in the subsequent league encounter last February.
He will undoubtedly be the target for abuse from home fans and former director of football Damien Comolli, who signed Suarez from Ajax for £22.7m (€27m) in January 2011, has suggested that could drive the striker out of English football.
But Rodgers is not concerned as he thinks the 25-year-old will just raise his game in response.
"His mental fitness is very strong," said the Reds boss.
"He is a player who, like most top players, can cope mentally and you have to because of the pressures they put on themselves to perform and the pressures of playing for a big club.
"But I think he has been admirable. He has never come in here any day not smiling and working hard.
"Like with all the players I always spend the time to make sure he is in a good way not just on the field but off it and he has been no different.
"If anything he thrives on it and it gives him a greater motivation and I think everyone has seen that since he has been here."
Comolli said he feared for Suarez's future if the abuse continued for much longer.
"It'll be an absolute shame for English football if this victimisation drives him away," he said.
"As the biggest league in the world you want to keep the biggest players, not drive them away for crazy reasons."
Controversy seems to follow the Uruguayan around and last week he found himself at the centre of a handball storm after his goal helped Liverpool beat Blue Square Premier side Mansfield in the FA Cup.
Mansfield chairman John Radford criticised the player afterwards but Rodgers laughed it off.
"I thought the criticism was ludicrous of him really but I can understand people's reactions because we have seen it many times," he said.
"I spoke with the chairman afterwards and he'd obviously had a few drinks in him by that stage!
"With a few drinks in them at the end of the game they probably said things they wouldn't normally but the hospitality was great on the day.
"We've sent a message to Mansfield wishing them good luck for the rest of the season."
The Suarez-Van Persie match-up is an intriguing one on Sunday.
After his summer move from Arsenal the Dutchman has continued his impressive scoring spree and leads the Premier League with 16 goals.
Suarez is arguably in his best form since arriving in England and is only one behind and while Rodgers insisted he could not separate the two he stood firmly behind his man.
Asked what his response would be if United boss Sir Alex Ferguson called and offered an exchange of strikers Rodgers said: "I already have Luis Suarez so I wouldn't want to swap.
"I can only comment on Luis, I can't comment on who is the better because all strikers bring different things to the game.
"I think we are blessed to have someone like Luis, who carried the club for six months on his own in terms of being the only fit, available striker we had here.
"Some people have off-days but he is up for every game and his motivation is at a high level every day in training.
"Thankfully now people are looking more at his good side but you have to be careful when that happens because I always think praise is the tool which is used to kill you later on.
"He is a guy who just gets on with it. It is great he is in great form and we hope that continues."
While other players are starting to chip in with goals Suarez remains Liverpool's biggest threat to United - but Rodgers stressed only a solid team effort would bring success.
"The team understand (he is a match-winner) from his performances - you only have to look at his level throughout this season.
"He is a very important member of our team who can get goals out of nothing.
"But when you go to Old Trafford it is not about one player it is about what the team does and that will be the focus at the weekend."