Monday 23 April 2018

Liverpool fastening belts for return of Suarez rollercoaster

Daniel Taylor

A couple of months ago Luis Suarez turned up in a television advert in Uruguay wearing a shirt and tie, sitting behind a desk in a branch of the Abitab bank, and demonstrating what it might be like for anyone working alongside him in a standard nine-to-five office job.

Suarez can be seen angrily remonstrating with a coffee machine. He kicks out at a lift when the light tells him it is occupied. There is an argument with a photocopier. Suarez juts out an elbow and knocks a colleague's keyboard off his desk. "In Abitab, we were looking for a figure who represented the whole of Uruguay," the voiceover explains. "And because of that, we hired Luis Suarez." Then Suarez chucks a screwed-up piece of paper at a workmate's head, hits his target and we see the familiar goal celebration, kissing the tattoo on the inside of his wrist.

If nothing else, it shows the striker is not lacking self-awareness and can send himself up in a way that has not really been seen before. Someone taps him on the shoulder and Suarez throws himself beneath his desk in pretend agony. "There are parts of his attitude that could be polished up a little," a serious-looking lady in a dark suit points out. Which, funnily enough, is the polite version of what they were saying at Liverpool after he gnawed on Branislav Ivanovic's arm and then used just about every trick possible to try to get a way out of Anfield.

He is back this week. It is just over five months – 157 days, to be precise – since that infamous bite and it is tempting to wonder whether all that time mulling over his 10-match ban, and everything that has followed, might usher in a new Suarez. Older, perhaps a little wiser. Maybe there will be a greater understanding that he cannot continue undermining his own brilliance at a club that has persistently, sometimes desperately, redrawn the line every time he has crossed it. Or maybe we should just fasten our seatbelts and understand that, at this stage of his professional life, second-guessing Suarez and what he is capable of, both good and bad, is never going to be straightforward.

All that can be said for certain is that Suarez discovered over the summer that he cannot always get his own way and that it is a start, at least. Liverpool handled his attempts to engineer a transfer to Arsenal with impressive backbone given the pressure they came under and, even if they have been guilty of indulging him too much in the past, anyone who has grown weary of players getting ideas above themselves should appreciate the clear message that he could stamp his feet as many times as he liked and it still would not make a jot of difference.

There is a downside, of course, when it flies in the face of one of football's older rules that a club should never keep a player who is unhappy and potentially brings disruption. Yet it is still better than the alternative when that means selling your best player, without a replacement, on that player's say-so. Liverpool had the choice of looking weak or strong. They chose the right option and, ultimately, there is nothing to say Suarez has to stop scoring goals just because if you strapped a polygraph to him and asked him if he would rather be playing somewhere else the needle might start picking up speed.

Just look at at Liverpool's opponents in the League Cup on Wednesday – what a jarring symmetry, by the way, that Suarez's comeback should be at Old Trafford – and the paradox of Wayne Rooney scoring his 199th and 200th goals for Manchester United last Tuesday but reserving his best piece of swerve for when a television interviewer had the temerity to ask if he was "happy again". Rooney and United have come to resemble a couple in marriage counselling, still sharing the same oxygen, just not the old joys. But United had a similar issue with Cristiano Ronaldo in his final year in Manchester and, as a colleague wrote at the time, the marriage might be rocky but the sex is pretty good. It can be for Suarez and Liverpool, too. Even if the little so-and-so has been thinking of someone else.

Loyalty doesn't come into it unfortunately and, though it is probably futile to say this bearing in mind how easily some fans are brainwashed, let's hope a few more are wise to him when there is the inevitable show of badge-petting or the first stage-managed interview declaring himself back in love with everything Liverpool. Suarez has already gone through all that stuff and it turned out he was taking everyone for a ride.

He is, however, a phenomenal footballer and, going back to Rooney, that appears to be enough to get most supporters back on-side these days. The bottom line is that Suarez gets special dispensation because he has special gifts.

Will we ever fully understand him? Probably not. For now, though, he is just probably desperate to get on the pitch again and rid himself of some pent-up frustration. Keep your head down, work hard and concentrate on your football. That was Rooney's mantra after Gabriel Clarke went all off-message last Tuesday. It is good advice for Suarez. Though, of course, he tends to go by his own rules.

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