A reputation enhanced in the eyes of Anfield faithful
Published 07/02/2012 | 05:00
It would be wrong to suggest Luis Suarez was welcomed like The Prodigal Son by The Kop last night.
After all, in the parable of the misguided youth returning to the fold, there was an acknowledgement of initial wrongdoing.
Suarez's comeback -- delayed 66 minutes by Kenny Dalglish for full theatrical effect when he named his striker as a substitute -- was perceived at Anfield to be more like the reappearance of wrongly exiled rebel, back on hospitable territory after a spell imprisoned by conspiratorial forces.
Dalglish surprised everyone by leaving him out his starting line-up.
It was mischievously suggested all those protests were a bluff and he didn't consider an eight-game absence enough.
It made a for an initially low-key return. It was 30 minutes before his name was chanted as he warmed up along the touchline, but as he was in full view of the Spurs fans they noticed him before the home crowd could react.
"Are you Terry in disguise?" they sang. They followed it with: "Let's all wear a T-shirt."
The Kop was saving itself for the grand entrance, presuming it would arrive before Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford on Saturday.
When he was eventually summoned, it only needed the removal of his training top to add verve to the atmosphere. Then came the introduction, the eruption, the immediate improvement in Liverpool's performance and the brush with authority.
He immediately closed down and stole possession from Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Every touch, turn and trick was then acclaimed as if he was the mid-1960s version of Mohammed Ali throwing his first punches following the reinstatement of his boxing licence.
He was even booked for kicking Scott Parker, a decision which provoked fury on The Kop. This is the world to which he returns.
Nine games ago, Suarez was just a footballer. Now there are those who will treat him as an emblem of Kop resistance against an unjust establishment.
The South American has been transformed into a modern day Che Guevara by his fans -- a veteran of a multi-generational guerrilla war with the FA and Manchester United.
This will be reprehensible to many, but to understand it you must recognise the political nuances surrounding every decision which impacts upon Liverpool Football Club. Suarez's period in purgatory was never going to impact on his popularity.
Apart from his eight-game ban, the controversy has played out beautifully for his relationship with the Liverpool supporters. Left wing sensibilities are imposed on all Liverpool players and managers as a matter of course, regardless of their accuracy, as part of a broader culture of certain sections of The Kop.
Suarez, therefore, has accidentally found himself following in a well-established tradition. Liverpool worships rascals, particularly those in club colours. Robbie Fowler was loved not just for his goals, but for his on field support for sacked dockers (he was fined by UEFA) and the mime artistry that so upset Graeme Le Saux and Evertonians (banned and fined by the FA) Michael Owen could never foster the same rapport because he was never in similar trouble and looked too smart in an England tie.
Suarez's problems have cemented his popularity. While the rest of the country laments a series of PR disasters on the striker's behalf, Suarez's advisors could not have dreamed up a more ideal means to garner even more esteem at Anfield.
Taking on the combined force of the English Football Association and Alex Ferguson is a perfect storming of the old guard -- regardless of whether you win or not. In the short-term, Suarez was hurt by lack of football. In the longer-term, it has done him no harm on Merseyside at all.
Those who find this arrangement disagreeable miss the point. Anyone expected a wagging finger and mute reception for the No 7 last night ought to ask themselves who has really been guilty of naivety during the whole 'tribal war' with United?
Nobody on The Kop particularly cares how their reaction towards Suarez punishment is perceived, and it is extraordinary that anyone seriously thought they ever would.
Cast judgement all you like, but Anfield is not the only temple in the world that specialises in the creation of false Gods. Gullibility is a flaw all football supporters must be granted, no matter how intolerable to sensitive neutrals.
What would be the point of passionately supporting any team if, for at least 90 minutes a couple of times a week, you are not allowed the right to think only the best rather than the worst of your heroes?
The list of sportsmen unjustifiably deified in the face of questionable previous behaviour extends far beyond Merseyside.
So Suarez is back, as competitive, tetchy and extraordinary as ever, but now with added victimisation.
He'll be booed mercilessly at every other venue and barracked as much as he was by the Spurs fans, fuelling the cheers when he's home.
No one at Anfield last night can be in any doubt. Patrice Evra and The FA's Independent Commission have achieved what many beyond Liverpool will find incomprehensible. They've enhanced rather than damaged Suarez's reputation at Anfield. (© Daily Telegraph, London)