Kopology explains why Luis Suarez, widely tipped to win the PFA Player of the Year, is a rare breed – one whose passion and enthusiasm makes him a genuine idol.
Broaching a subject like losing Luis Suarez with a tone of anything other than outraged defiance would be seen by many as treason, so let me be clear: there is no way, under any circumstances, that I’d want us to sell Luis Suarez. Not even if we got £70m for him, and could get someone like Falcao as a replacement.
Some fans might not admit it, but supporting a team is really about emotions. In a world where our lives are increasingly atomised, we (and men particularly) are discouraged from displaying passion, affection or even love for anyone other than immediate family and spouses. Strangers who might otherwise look down on emotive expression as ‘soft’ will embrace on the Kop after a goal, and even the most rational thinkers form attachments to players that go beyond their objective worth to the team. Bonds are formed, and the bond between the fans and Luis Suarez – especially after all he, the club and the fans have been through together – is a strong one which could not be easily replaced, even if the goals he scores could.
Very few players become darlings of the Kop. Owen, McManaman and countless others played brilliantly at Anfield without ever being fully embraced, but Suarez has become a true idol in relatively quick time. Comparisons in football are all too frequent and often absurd. Cheyrou was the new Zidane, as was Le Tallec, and just about any young French footballer with a modicum of skill on the ball. So please forgive this indulgence, but Suarez has always seemed like a Maradona – Fowler hybrid to me.
Although Suarez isn’t alien to missing a chance, when his finishing is on-song, it’s instinctive and clinical, like the man the Kop called ‘God’. The way he twists and turns, often forcing opposition teams to appoint two or more players to marshall his threat evokes memories of Maradona at his best. Both Maradona and Fowler played with a street-fighter edge, and as with Suarez, controversy was never far from either.
The most important aspect of all, however, in distinguishing the Fowlers, Gerrards and Maradonas from the Owens, McManamans and Messis (in Argentina, Messi is nowhere near as popular as Maradona to this day), is the schoolboy-like passion those adored as heroes display on the pitch. The few who seem to play with a hunger equal to that of the fans, and who hurt like we do when defeated, become our own presence on the pitch, and almost allow us to take part through them, as if our own will is manifested in every move they make.
Gerrard performed the function of conduit for fan passion for years before age and injury forced him into a less high-octane role. Dirk Kuyt was similar, and some of Jordan Henderson’s popularity could be down to emerging signs of a similar attitude, but for now, the Kop’s will incarnates on the hallowed turf before it in the form of Luis Suarez.
So in losing Suarez, the fans wouldn’t only be losing the many goals he provides, his voluminous presence and the joy of watching a player as unpredictable and entertaining as any Anfield has seen. They’d be losing something almost metaphysical: their own passion embodied on the pitch.
We were spared the pain of losing a player as affective and adored as Torres not only because he lacked some of this connective quality, but via a combination of Suarez’s brilliance and the Spaniard’s regression at Chelsea. If Suarez were to leave, however, it’s unlikely the scars would heal so soon. Torres’ own wounds remain visible at the surface. If he could rewind time, he surely would, even despite a Champions League medal. Luis Suarez, take note: few have left Anfield to find the grass greener elsewhere. If the Uruguayan is as happy at the club as he seems, leaving now, just when the team look to be back on the up, might prove to be a career-ruining mistake.
And that’s the argument the club will make. Rodgers will tell Suarez to see who is brought in this summer, to stick around until Christmas, and to make his mind up then. If the reds are some way off the running, it will have only been a six month wait. But if it looks like Liverpool might make the Champions League in 2013 – 2014, Suarez can have it all: the chance to fulfil his ambitions with a club he loves, and is loved by in return.
But what if Suarez were to go? With a contract until 2018, the club are in a strong negotiating position, so a fee at least equal to the £50m received for Torres – who was never as good as Suarez is now – should be just the starting point. That money might buy an Eriksen, a Mkhitaryan and a Jovetic or Damiao. Whether any of those could fill a Suarez-shaped void in Liverpool fans’ hearts cannot be known, but, arguably, the cash could be used to fill a few holes on the pitch, and leave us with a stronger team.
But a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially in football, where even the best managers have only around a 50% ‘hit rate’ with transfers. For every Suarez there is a Carroll, for every Kuyt, a Babel, and for every Torres at Liverpool, a Torres for Chelsea.
That’s why teams should operate with two golden rules when selling players: you don’t sell your best players, and you don’t part with a player who plays like the fans feel, at least until they are past their best. The good news for Liverpool, should they be able to hold on to him, is that Suarez is far from past his.