There could be multiple reasons for Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool team to quickly forget the dismal FA Cup elimination to Oldham Athletic and focus their efforts on a strong finish to the current campaign. Vanquishing the memory, the prospect of European qualification, even securing a long term future in a side for which further squad restructuring in the summer is a certainty.
But, if there was only one reason for inspiration, then the prospect of convincing Luis Suarez that his mercurial talents are best served to remain at Anfield next season and beyond, should be top of the list.
The loss of Suarez’s irreplaceable quality, however likely or unlikely in the foreseeable future, would almost certainly lodge a sizeable spanner in the works of any progress currently ongoing at Anfield.
Suarez is the fulcrum around which Liverpool must look to build over the coming years. His very capture, almost 2 years to the day, has proved a rare but significant success for the club in the transfer market; during an era in which most other dealings are remembered with a wince in recollection of the huge financial investment and relative lack of return.
However, Suarez is also a player who could grace most – and perhaps any – team in Europe right now. On current form he is amongst the hottest attacking talents around the globe; meaning that he will surely be on the radar of any club with the necessary ambition and financial clout. Therein may lay the issue for Liverpool. Fending off any interested onlookers without the comparative financial or competitive resources.
Sure, any sale of the Uruguayan would demand a huge transfer fee from any potential suitor and represent a significant return of Liverpool’s initial investment, a greater certainty you could not find. Yet, assuming a lack of Champions League football, Liverpool would surely find it exceedingly difficult to entice any fitting replacement for Suarez – if such exists – of a move to Anfield in the present climate.
A vast sum of money may represent reasonable compensation and could be reinvested in a playing squad which would certainly benefit from an injection of cash. But, the fact is, Liverpool would be hard pushed to fill the void of goals, creativity and raw competitiveness which Suarez would vacate.
Failing to retain the talents of Suarez would also likely prove to be a poor move from a PR perspective. A club of Liverpool’s stature does not want to make a habit of losing key figures. Whilst that theoretical outcome would hardly sit well with the fans, and provide substantial ammunition for the detractors of both Rodgers and the board. What’s more, a Liverpool squad minus Suarez would be a significantly weaker proposition for any top talent which the club will be looking to recruit over the coming transfer windows.
So what may Liverpool need to do convince their number 7 that his future remains on Merseyside? The answers could lie both on and off the field.
There is no doubt that the talents of Suarez deserve to grace the highest stage. But, at 25, he remains at an age, and stage of his career, where he can still consider time to be on his side.
The general consensus is that Suarez’s decision to agree new, improved terms with the club last summer owed much to a desire to repay the club for their continued backing. After all, the club has stood by Suarez through seemingly endless defamation over the past 12 months or so. This sense of gratitude is likely to have a continued influence.
Suarez has hardly displayed any signs of a player unsettled at any point during his Liverpool career. The Uruguayan seems positively happy on Merseyside. Though, the clubs responsibility is to prove that he can achieve what his vast talents deserve, without the need to depart Anfield for pastures new, lest that temptation begin to grow over time.
Champions League qualification, or at the very least a sustained challenge for a top-four finish, would be a good start. A return to the Champions League remains a hope much more than an expectation even for the most optimistic of fans. Yet, even if Liverpool were to fall short, finishing within touching distance would represent improvement and could provide genuine belief that the club are placed for a more sustained challenge next season.
The positive effect of trophies should also not be underestimated. All of which makes the surrender to third tier opposition in the FA Cup all the more agonising. Success in the cups may not have been enough to save Kenny Dalglish his job, but there is no doubt that every player craves tangible success. Liverpool’s best hopes for silverware this season are gone. Though, they remain in the Europa League, a competition which Rodgers should be expected to take seriously.
Beyond evidence of genuine progress on the field, Liverpool may also need to demonstrate genuine ambition in the board room. Which, of course, suggests considerable investment in the playing staff. But also, a considered and tactile approach in the transfer market, which will allow the club to secure the right players at the right price. Something which has all too often not been the case.
Daniel Sturridge is a now a Liverpool player and Phillippe Coutinho will soon join him. That represents a good start. However, the squad still lacks the quality and experience of enough players at, or nearing, their peak years. An area which will need to be addressed if the club are to push on and convince the likes of Suarez, and others, of their ambition.
There may not appear to be an immediate threat of losing Luis Suarez. However, any complacency from within the club may just rouse doubts in the player’s mind and tempt him to pay a glance to any on looking admirers. Suarez has a pivotal role to play in Liverpool’s long-term plans. Now the club must continue to convince Suarez that Liverpool have an equally vital footing in his.