Saturday 20 January 2018

Liverpool must fight to keep Luis Suárez at Anfield - just like Sir Alex Ferguson did with Eric Cantona

Brendan Rodgers needs only to look up the East Lancs Road for guidance over what Liverpool should do over the Uruguay striker

Luis Suarez's future is again under scrutiny
Luis Suarez's future is again under scrutiny

Mark Ogden

Brendan Rodgers will do well to copy how Alex Ferguson reacted nearly twenty years ago when faced with a similar situation.

When Eric Cantona made it abundantly clear that he wanted to leave Manchester United in the summer of 1995 after become so exasperated by the severity of his eight-month ban for a kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter, Sir Alex Ferguson resorted to riding pillion on a motorbike through Paris in a desperate attempt to persuade the Frenchman to reconsider.

The unusual tactic worked. Ferguson caught up with Cantona, who had disappeared through the Parisian streets, and the forward was talked into staying at Old Trafford for two more years.

In a similar move, Ferguson also convinced Cristiano Ronaldo that the negativity and anger that would greet his return from the 2006 World Cup, following his ‘winking’ response to Wayne Rooney’s dismissal for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during England’s quarter-final exit against Portugal, would dissipate within weeks if he toughed it out and allowed United to throw a protective arm around him.

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool are now faced with their own Cantona and Ronaldo moment with Luis Suárez and they must display the same stubborn determination to ride out the storm that Ferguson and United showed with their two iconic superstars.

The Ronaldo case was wholly different to that of Suárez in that the Portuguese winger was merely the easy target for English supporters looking for a scapegoat.

Ronaldo did nothing wrong, but he still harboured fears of a witch-hunt when he returned to English shores.

Suárez will undoubtedly believe he will be public enemy No 1 if he returns to Liverpool, despite his latest biting incident having nothing to do with England, being that it happened against Italy and the Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Cantona is the more direct precedent to Suárez, simply because of the shocking and unsavoury nature of the incident which led to his suspension.

Regardless of the provocation that Cantona received at Selhurst Park, on the pitch in terms of over-physical treatment from the Palace defenders and off it with the abuse directed at him from the home supporters, there could never be any justification for the response – jumping into the stands and hitting supporter Matthew Simmons in the chest with the studs of his boots.

Cantona has since been lauded by many United fans for his actions, but that is the one-eyed response of a supporter blinded by loyalty.

Suárez benefits from similarly blinkered followers, both in Uruguay and on Merseyside, but his behaviour has been as unforgivable as Cantona’s.

To bite three different opponents over the space of four years is a sign of a deep-rooted psychological flaw and something that may yet be triggered again.

But despite Suárez’s penchant for controversy and on-field madness, Liverpool must now fight tooth-and-nail – no pun intended – to keep him at Anfield.

It may be a galling prospect for many, including some in Liverpool, but even a pariah has his value in the modern world of football.

If Suárez was such damaged goods, Barcelona and Real Madrid would not be remotely interested in signing the 27-year-old.

But the reality is that they are now prepared to slug it out and pay whatever price is required to persuade Liverpool to sell him.

That is because Suárez is a world-class footballer, a striker of genius-like qualities with the ball at his feet and one who has made Liverpool title contenders again.

If he leaves the Premier League, he will be sorely missed. Not for his stupid antics, but for the goals, the audacity and even his pantomime villain status.

And Liverpool will create a hole they cannot fill if they allow Suárez to leave, which is why the moral argument goes out of the window.

Yes, he will become somebody else’s problem if he signs for Real Madrid or Barcelona, but his goals and mercurial talents ultimately make him a good problem for Liverpool to have.

Cantona’s eight-month ban in 1995 arguably cost United the Premier League title that season, with Blackburn Rovers pipping Ferguson’s team at the post, yet they won the Double in the campaign of his return.

There is no reason why Liverpool cannot do the same next season if they hold their nerve on Suárez and wait for him to return in November.

Forget the baggage. Suárez is one of the best footballers to have graced the Premier League, so Liverpool have to keep him.

Online Editors

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