Sunday 18 February 2018

Brendan Rodgers hails wife's influence after Player of Year award completes Luis Suarez redemption

Henry Winter

Liverpool's desire to show the world they are a powerhouse force to be reckoned with was behind their decision to refuse to bow to player-power when Luis Suárez agitated to leave last summer.

"We're one of the biggest clubs in world football,'' Brendan Rodgers, the manager, said. "Sometimes you have to demonstrate your power and that's what we did."

Liverpool's ambition will again be paraded this summer in a pursuit of Adam Lallana and other high-class internationals as well as fending off any renewed interest in Suárez from other clubs. Even the damage inflicted by Chelsea on Liverpool's hunt for the Premier League cannot dent Rodgers' hunger to lead Suárez and company to greater heights.

"I look at the bigger picture and the strides we've made this year have been incredible,'' Rodgers said.

Retaining Suárez has proved the key decision in Liverpool's unexpected tilt at the title, which despite the defeat on Sunday has already yielded a return to the Champions League. It was a decision that ultimately harmed Arsenal; if Suárez had forced through a move to the Emirates then Arsenal would currently be fighting for the title rather than fourth place as last night in their game with Newcastle United.

Having scored 30 times in the Premier League, Suárez was named PFA Player of the Year in London on Sunday, vindicating Liverpool's hard-line stance. Rewind 12 months and Suárez's name was booed at the PFA dinner on Park Lane. He was a pariah, having racially abused one opponent, bitten another and tumbled over a few more. He pushed for a transfer.

Liverpool's No 7 was Public Enemy No 1, a symbol of the sport's gamesmanship and greed.

A year on and a remarkable tale of Rodgers' man-management, strong leadership by the club's Fenway owners and the support of fans and team-mates brought Suárez in from the cold-shouldering. Sofia Balbi Suárez also played a significant part in helping her husband mature on the pitch and keeping him at Liverpool.

When Suárez accepted the PFA Player of the Year trophy from Roy Hodgson at the Grosvenor House hotel, he smiled at the host Jake Humphreys's wry remark that he could have been battling "for fourth place with Arsenal". He smiled again at the thought of going easy on Hodgson's players in Sao Paulo and returned to the Liverpool table.

He kissed his wife, shook hands with the Liverpool coaching staff and colleagues like Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, and turned and embraced Rodgers, who was sitting to his left. After half an hour talking to fellow professionals, Suárez left. He went backstage and recorded a YouTube clip, thanking his team-mates, the Liverpool supporters and "my wife Sofia, and my two children Delfina and Benjamin, who I love with all my soul''. (Delfina is an anagram of Anfield although she was born just before he signed from Ajax).

Rodgers expanded on why the player heeded his wife's exhortations to temper his excesses. "She's a great woman and offers him great stability in his life,'' Rodgers said. "She tells him straight and direct. She loves Liverpool, she loves the city, she loves the camaraderie with the other players' wives. So she's a real pillar in his life."

"He's a player from the street and that's something that in this country we've been looking to identify. He's just relentless in his work. Every second of the day, in training, he's just non-stop. He has been coached but it hasn't been coached out of him. He has been allowed to flourish. In and around the box, he's magical.''

Other influences were involved in Suárez staying. "Guys like Steven were talking to him in the background, telling him he had an opportunity to be a legend at the club. And he loves the city and the supporters.'

"Maybe there would come a point in his life where he might think that he has achieved what he wants to (at Liverpool)." But clearly not yet, Rodgers believes.

The Liverpool manager painted a picture to Suárez of what it would be like to play at Anfield on a huge Champions League night. "That was key to it. That's what he was missing. A player of Luis Suárez's ability has to be playing at this level.

"His loyalty in staying at Liverpool, to continue to fight for the club to get us there, is remarkable really. Hopefully he gets the rewards for that with those big European nights next season. I've convinced players to stay and enjoy the style of football, which they do, but they also want to be competing in the best competitions." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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