Tuesday 12 December 2017

Dion Fanning: The Luis Suarez transfer saga

Dion Fanning

There is a great daring in the heart of Luis Suarez. He is audacious on the field and audacious off it, as you would expect from any man who can bring the Rioplatense dialect into his defence when charged with being racially abusive.

Perhaps he is too audacious. He had attempted to manoeuvre his way out of Liverpool by talking about the life of persecution and torment he was suffering in England when the truth itself was a reasonable explanation: Suarez wanted Champions League football. When the only club that could provide this happened to be in England, Suarez, with his natural gift for dissembling, had to alter course.

Liverpool met several performance objectives last season but challenging for a top-four place was not among them. They have an outside chance of a top-four place this season. Arsenal might not have much, but they have that.

Liverpool have an audacious manager too, a man with the optimism of Pangloss who has asked Suarez to stay at Liverpool by stating that they are a bigger club than Arsenal.

In many ways, Brendan Rodgers is right and in Brendan Rodgers' world, his view is indisputable. If there is no difference between winning and losing, then Liverpool is a much bigger club than Arsenal. If there is no difference between fourth, place with its Champions League spot, and seventh, with nothing, then Rodgers' claim is perfectly valid.

There is a whole world out there committed to making language meaningless but it becomes a problem for Rodgers when, as he did in Melbourne last week, he tries to make a point to Suarez with his words.

When he was asked in Australia about Suarez, Rodgers made his upbeat case, stating that it would be a mistake for Suarez to leave. "I know what we are trying to build and grow here, so why would you swap Liverpool to go to Arsenal? Don't get me wrong, Arsenal has a wonderful history in its own right, but Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the world. I am sure Luis will have seen the sheer size and status of the club here so we'll just see how it goes."

Rodgers' problem is that he sounded as upbeat when, say, West Brom had beaten Liverpool at Anfield. Then he couldn't fault the players who had given everything and had played on the front foot. If everything is magnificent, then nothing is magnificent.

Rodgers is busy constructing an alternative reality with his own performance objectives which are fine except that football always provides its searingly ruthless measurement. Suarez has delivered a judgment too which has revealed something pretty fundamental.

Arsenal should not be considered a bigger club than Liverpool but it is an indictment of all that has happened in recent years at Liverpool that footballers with ambition can believe it is.

Suarez is audacious and ambitious. He can respond to his own meaningless language as well as the meaningless language of others on the field where victory is all that matters to him. If he signs for Arsene Wenger, Suarez will alter the mentality at a club where they, too, have been committed to losing heroically or often simply losing.

Of course, Suarez's possible arrival has raised other issues. Short of Suarez joining Manchester United, this may be his most audacious move as he reveals that much of what passes for principle in football is tribalism and that the only thing we can learn from those who stand on the high moral ground is that one day they will have a great fall.

Arsenal fans who once viewed Suarez as an unprincipled sociopathic racist with a dark, dark soul have come to the conclusion in recent days that they were wrong and in fact he is a deeply misunderstood man with a good heart. More significantly, they have turned on those who continue to hold to those principles because there is now the opportunity of Arsenal spending money and that is the most important principle of all.

Liverpool's owner John W Henry signalled the club's intention to be tough with his tweet wondering what they were smoking over at the Emirates. This hardline negotiating position might have been undermined slightly by the picture of Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre in buoyant mood at an unidentified Melbourne location being carried shoulder-high by Robbie Fowler.

Ayre is, of course, entitled to a night out. He did, however, look like a man those who might be smoking anything at all at the Emirates would wish to do business with. But they probably knew that anyway as he had helped sign Stewart Downing for £20m.

Henry's tweet was a reminder that he is rarely heard from these days, which is a shame as he articulated a vision for Liverpool when he arrived which hasn't always been easy to spot since.

In Melbourne, Rodgers echoed the view of some Liverpool fans that Suarez should show loyalty after all the support they gave him. Suarez will feel he already has. After all, they supported him because of what he was doing on the football field. If Jay Spearing, say, had committed the acts Suarez has over the past two years, he would already be a Blackburn Rovers player.

Liverpool could have kept Suarez, not with demonstrations of loyalty which were really demonstrations of self-interest (and loyalty isn't much of a stretch if it mirrors your self-interest) but by challenging for trophies or at least fourth place.

Liverpool were reminded of their popularity in Melbourne last week when 95,000 fans sang You'll Never Walk Alone with a profound and self-reverential melancholy usually reserved for a visit to a world heritage site. This melancholic nostalgia influences their stance on Suarez but they must offer more. Liverpool's challenge is to avoid becoming football's version of the musical We Will Rock You, a hugely popular tourist attraction which has no relevance to how we live today. A club with the best tunes but which has nobody who can sing them.


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