Luis Suarez — The Marmite Man

The Two Sides of Luis Suarez
Jonathan Townsend
December 21, 2013

Since his arrival to the red side of Merseyside in 2010, Luis Suarez has shown both sides of the persona making him one of the most polarizing figures in world football. Liverpool Football Club has remained steadfast in their loyalty to its prized asset when many thought the club could have and should have parted ways with the Uruguayan. His relationship with his peers, employers and supporters certainly has experienced its hills and valleys – and for good reason. When Suarez is focused, he’s unstoppable in ways rivaling the genius of Lionel Messi, the power of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the silky ingenuity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

But what makes Suarez’s footballing displays so unique? For starters, Suarez’s proclivity to retreat deep into the midfield or out on the wing to retrieve the ball only to turn and put defenders on their heels is a quality rarely seen by modern strikers. What makes Luis Suarez a special talent is his versatility to operate as a one-touch fast-break player looking for that surgical pass on his way to goal, or as a striker who dribbles with direct intent to make defenders commit early. Perhaps the most impressive quality Suarez possesses is the ways he scores goals. Be it deadly free-kicks, technical six-yard box finishing, headers, long-range swerving half-volleys, or displaying futsal-esque dribbling abilities through a gauntlet of lunging defenders sets him apart with everyone save Cristiano Ronaldo.

Then there’s the well-documented dark side of Luis Suarez. The few analysts who knew Suarez’s incident history stemming from head-butting a referee when playing for Uruguayan side Nacional braced themselves for the rollercoaster of outbursts spliced with brilliant performances the player would undoubtedly bring to Holland. Unlike any other top player, though, Luis Suarez has the ability to tap into the primal beast deep within him instantaneously, which is perhaps what’s most perplexing about him. His fiery demeanor resembles a different style of football seen in the modern level. Suarez plays with an edge unseen on the lush fields of European football, but displayed on the daily in South American street soccer. What makes him hated also makes him great.

At Ajax, Suarez had his acclimation-induced struggles on the field, yet he still slammed home 111 goals in 159 appearances. During his tenure with Ajax filled up the disciplinary side of the stat sheet with a slew of cautions, dismissals and numerous off-the-ball incidents including the biting of PSV’s Ottman Bakkal – leading to the national Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf to dub Suarez “The Cannibal of Ajax”.

But for a club like Liverpool, who in 2010 found itself in a footballing freefall, acquiring the services of Luis Suarez assured one thing: goals. Liverpool has made a statement of monumental intent by signing Suarez to a contract extension until 2018 at the cost of raising the Uruguayan hitman’s weekly pay from £120,000 to £200,000. Today, he instantly justified that wage increase with a two-goal one assist display against Cardiff City. Supporters of Liverpool must see this as a wonderful piece of business and they aren’t wrong in their belief that securing the prized asset most likely guarantees a top four finish.

However, beneath the surface of this glamorous deal, Liverpool have set a multi-pronged warning to world football – the Liverbird is rising from the ashes. This deal not only secures Suarez’s services for the immediate future, but it also prevents ridiculous backhanded inquiries flooding through the door like Arsenal’s dubious £40,000,001 “offer” last summer.

For all the critics Suarez has for his disciplinary issues, no one doubts his footballing ability and his mental strength to be jeered more than he will ever be cheered. He’s not a shining example of sportsmanship (recall is impromptu goalkeeping display against Ghana in 2010 and the visible jubilant celebration after the missed penalty) football wants its stars to become. He’s not respected at the level of a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and perhaps, nor should he be, but the point is that Luis Suarez doesn’t care.

Liverpool meshed as a cohesive unit with Daniel Sturridge leading the frontline during Suarez’s suspension the biting incident with Branislav Ivanović, dodged a bullet. At the time of the incident, Suarez was competing with Robin Van Persie for the league’s golden boot. He was in contention to be the PFA player of the year (although, let’s be honest, he never had a chance) and his stock was rising as his reputation fell. That inverse relationship is rarely seen in modern football. Had Suarez won the golden boot award the fact was evident – there was no saving Liverpool’s dreadful campaign last year. To that effect, he may have sought greener pastures when the opportunity arose, but Liverpool held an important bargaining chip.

The club, team and most of the supporters stuck with him as his public castigation intensified. Brendan Rodgers stood firm in his support for the troubled striker as the team rallied on without him, finding a new goal scoring hero in the revived and resurgent Daniel Sturridge. Many questioned whether Liverpool was where strikers went to commit career suicide as the Anfield faithful were still far from happy at the departure of Fernando Torres and the poor signing of Andy Carroll. The cause for their concern was palpable because last year, Liverpool looked like a side destined for seventh place finishes. Out of the coveted top four and without so much as even a sniff of challenging for the league title, Liverpool deservedly trudged through the storm of speculation.

Fast forward to September 29, 2013 when Suarez returned to league action away at Sunderland scoring a goal in his return. The goals haven’t stopped. Regardless of where Liverpool finish this campaign, the jackals will come sniffing hoping to steal Suarez away, and Liverpool, for all their tenacity, stick-to-itiveness and loyalty, might be resigned to cash in if the offer is anywhere near the Gareth Bale realm of monetary wheeling and dealing.

With no way of predicting the future, Liverpool do look likely to finish in the top four barring any injuries or almost inevitable suspensions for Suarez. The preposition of determining the club’s real quality lies in the string of performances that historically have plagued Liverpool in the Premier League era – compete and beat mid-table teams, lose to the Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, and victories against the bottom dwellers. There is no better chance for Liverpool to build on their early-season success. The recent dismantling of an expensively misguided and mismanaged Tottenham side proved the team can play the opposition off the park without Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard on the pitch away from Anfield.

Time will tell if Luis Suarez has learned to keep his mouth shut to prevent any racial slur accusations and further biting incidents and increase the club’s chances of earning a Champions League spot. How will the press and public deal with a Luis Suarez with whom they harbour so much collective criticism if he’s able to stay out of trouble, on the pitch, and most importantly –on the score sheet?

According to scoring projections, the striker is on pace to score upwards of 40 goals this year in the Premier League alone, which leaves would-be suitors wondering what type of damage he’d unleash on defenses in La Liga which would most likely be the destination for Suarez should he depart Anfield. That very question is the reason the saying, “Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him,” perfectly suits the two sides of Luis Suarez.!the-marmite-man/c1ldn

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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