The Redmen TV – Summer Retrospective: Suarez, Perspective, and Promise

There is nothing quite like a transfer saga to occupy writers and fans during fallow non-footballing summers and, in the absence of a major international competition, 2013 did not disappoint – the Premier League generously serving up three “Will he or won’t he?” affairs between mid-May and the close of the Summer Transfer Window.

Wayne Rooney’s future was immediately cast into doubt with the appointment of David Moyes, with the pair sharing a bitter personal history, and a transfer to Chelsea was much touted even before Moyes’ press conference gaffe http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/jul/17/manchester-united-wayne-rooney-chelsea-transferappeared to further distance the England striker from an Old Trafford stay – a committed performance against Chelsea and an admission of defeat by Jose Mourinho ultimately ended the speculation for this year at least. Tottenham Hotspur fans must have felt that the writing was on the wall as soon as Gareth Bale collected his PFA and FWA honours following his Roy of the Rovers-like season – once a much maligned Spurs flop, the Welshman progressed to a point whereby his personal ambitions exceeded those he perceived of the North London club and it seems that only each club saving-face dictated the protracted nature of his eventual near-record transfer to Real Madrid.

The story of Liverpool and their once-wantaway forward, Luis Suárez, was the most unsavoury of the summer’s transfer sagas, however – even once the dust did appear to settle, many supporters refocused their hysteria upon the modest transfer dealings, or lack-thereof, of Brendan Rodgers and the Fenway Sports Group’s mysterious ‘transfer committee’. A second wave of new arrivals did eventually reach Anfield, and all in time for Rodgers to enjoy a deadline-day drink with Kenny Dalglish, but consideration of the Suárez affair, activity at other clubs in the league, and the evolving state of the Liverpool squad does go some way towards explaining the at-times restless and green-eyed concerns of supporters.

Arriving at Anfield in January 2011, Suárez was a controversial signing – he was, at the time, serving a seven-match ban for biting an Ajax opponent and had received earlier criticism for his goal-line handball during the Quarter Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Nevertheless, most considered £22.8m good value for the Uruguayan’s pedigree and promise – he swiftly underlined this with a debut goal against Stoke City and a dazzling performance against Manchester United.The impact of ‘El Pistolero’ has steadily increased since, and he was involved in 68 goals over two seasons – scoring 30 last season.Controversy has persisted, however – a ten-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanović adding to the racism row, comments about simulation, and harsh criticism for handling the ball against Mansfield Town.In spite of the controversy, Luis Suárez has proved a major hit an Anfield and is now considered as one of the best players in the world.

After three lost seasons, Brendan Rodgers’ appointment signalled a back-to-the-drawing board approach from Liverpool Footall Club –the Reds began 2012-13 very slowly but a mid-season improvement was built upon as Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge provided a boost and Liverpool ended the season as one of the form sides. Having missed out on European qualification, however, the fears of Liverpool supporters were heightened by Uruguayan reports that their talismanic striker was seeking an Anfield departure.In a series of interviews, Luis Suárez appeared to confirm his desire to leave – citing the UK media as a keyfactor in his decision andopenly flirting with Real Madrid http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/may/31/luis-Suárez-wants-leave-liverpool.

Distance between Liverpool and Luis Suárez, combined with the player’s participation in the FIFA Confederations Cup, determined that talk was reduced to mere soundbites and speculation during early summer – Madrid’s focus seemed to be upon Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s derisory bids were openly mocked by Liverpool owner, John W Henry, who asked “What do you think they’re smoking over there at the Emirates?”. All eyes were on Suárez as he rejoined his Liverpool team-mates in Melbourne, and many budding body language experts suggested the that forward could yet trouble Liverpool’s previously dismissive stance as he side-stepped an Iago Aspas’ goal celebration.

Suárez’ early August interview with UK broadsheets appeared to represent a line drawn in the sand – having pulled out of Liverpool’s trip to Norway through injury, he accused Rodgers http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/06/luis-Suárez-liverpool-arsenal-transferand the Club of having broken promises made last summer, inferred that legal proceedings and a transfer request were possibilities, and stated his need to be playing in the Champions League. Many supporters felt betrayed by such a strong stance from Suárez, particularly due to the adversity through which they have offered him unwavering support –Rodgers was quick to make this point http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/07/luis-Suárez-liverpool-outcast, swiftly ordering the Uruguayan to train apart from his team mates, whilst John W Henry underlined the defiant stance of the Club http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/08/luis-Suárez-liverpool-john-w-henry.

Suggestions of a u-turn surfaced on the morning of Uruguay’s match in Japan, though, with reports http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/14/luis-Suárez-liverpoolclaiming that Luis Suárez had resolved to extend his stay at Anfield thanks to the affection of supporters. With further reports appearing to contradict these encouraging signs, Rodgers declared that the Club would not publically discuss Suárez – instead focusing upon the start of the Premier League season http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/15/brendan-rodgers-luis-Suárez-sabotage-liverpool. Luis Suárez rejoined his team mates in training a day before the season’s start and appeared in good spirits at the Reds’ opener against Stoke City – with encouraging indications from both Suárezhttp://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/liverpools-luis-Suárez-dismisses-real-2246415and Rodgers there are hopes that all parties can now move on from the testing summer.

It’s clear that many will find it difficult to move forward with the same affection for Suárez as has been felt in the last 30 months – the only-recently unfurled ‘La Garra Charrua’ flag is likely to gather dust in the medium term and only the man himself can coax it out. Hopefully, Suárez has taken a moment to consider the inference of the ‘Scouse Solidarność’ banner that waves upon The Kop.Few would have begrudged the Uruguayan a Real Madrid move had he made his honest feelings clear in May, even after the Ivanović incident – a heartfelt apology for that action, perhaps (albeit cynically) putting it down to the frustration at having given everything for a futile cause, and a clearly expressed desire to move to a club playing host to Champions League football would most likely have seen Luis Suárez transfer at a more modest fee than would have been demanded later in the summer and he’d have left on good terms with the best wishes of supporters.Little of Suárez’s future intentions is really known but it would seem in the Club’s best interests to attempt to agree a new deal that allows Suárez a departure (for a sizeable fee) should Liverpool fail to achieve Champions League qualification this season, but secures his commitment if targets are met.

Given the hysteria surrounding the Luis Suárez saga, much of Liverpool’s early transfer activity was treated as mere subtext. Simon Mignolet, Kolo, Touré, and Luis Alberto were early additions replacing Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, and Jonjo Shelvey, whilst Iago Aspas represented a new attacking option for Brendan Rodgers as Suso departed on loan.Andy Carroll and Jay Spearing, having both been away on loan last season anyway, were both been sold and Stewart Downing joined Carroll at West Ham United.Valencia’s Aly Cissokho was later brought in on loan to challenge José Enrique’s occupancy of the left-back role.As well as Jordon Ibe having shown pre-season promise, there are also notable returnees to Anfield – Martin Kelly, Joe Allen, and Raheem Sterling will all hope to avoid the injury troubles that blighted their 2012-13 seasons.

Viewed in such a way, Liverpool appeared to have been uncharacteristically shrewd in replacing/upgrading a number of areas of the squad (with Aly Cissokho filling a vacant spot, so to speak) – though, without a replacement secured, some eyebrows were raised as Downing departed and restless supporters concerned themselves with whether or not Rodgers would find the correct deal in the market or place his trust in Fabio Borini, Sterling, and/or Ibe. Supporters were almost unanimous in their approval at the early amendments made to the squad, but the lack of clear outright additions became an increasing frustration amongst the fanbase – many identifying common areas of the squad requiring attention.

A key factor behind those frustrations lay in the fact that this viewpoint on Liverpool’s transfer activity was been adopted and expressed by Brendan Rodgers himself http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/transfers/liverpool-manager-brendan-rodgers-targets-major-transfers-weve-improved-the-squad–now-we-must-improve-the-team-8703796.htmland, with the apparent backing of FSG, the funds appeared to exist should the correct player have become available. Liverpool supporters found themselves discussing the failure to make“marquee signings” and a “net spend” that, based solely on publicised fees, appeared to stand the Reds as profiting from their summer as the season began.Meanwhile, many considered there to be an urgent need to acquire a centre-back, physical central midfielder, and a goal threat from wide positions.

Whilst, inevitably, supporters are always going to be disappointed at not having secured exciting targets late into the transfer window, there’s a danger of losing a sense of perspective whenever the Club appear to be in the running for top players. By all accounts, Liverpool were close to acquiring Henrikh Mkhitaryan and serious efforts were made to sign Diego Costa and Willian – there was also much talk of interest in Kyriakos Papadopoulos but no deal (party due to concerns following the Greek’s long-term injury).As was discussed on Week Two’s ‘The Final Word’ http://www.theredmentv.com/watch/652, however, it is overly-optimistic to believe that Liverpool, at this moment in time, can realistically compete with Borussia Dortmund, Atlético Madrid, and Chelsea, and Tottenham’s credentials stand them as genuine contenders for a‘top four’ spot or better, whilst our pre-season remit was to compete for fourth spot and hope for a bit of luck along the way.

Spurs, in particular, received an awful lot of attention from Liverpool fans this summer – this is owing largely to the fact that two of our principle targets last season, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Clint Dempsey, were pinched from under our noses by Spurs and because they appear the most obvious contenders for what is widely considered the one available ‘top four’spot. Furthermore, Spurs looked likely to sign Liverpool-target Willian before the Brazilian concluded his own mini-transfer saga at Stamford Bridge http://i.imgur.com/81VhIqz.jpg. Reds fans, envious of their transfer activity, must remember that Spurs have been consistently finishing 4/5th during the last four seasons, that we don’t play Spurs 38 times this season, and that André Villas-Boas’ signings offer no guarantee of immediately gelling and bettering the side in which Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić, and Rafael van der Vaart so impressed together – nor have they yet demonstrated convincing early signs of doing so.To assess things frankly, we haven’t been competing with Spurs during the last few seasons and have finished 4, 17, and 11 points behind – from the outside, the two clubs appear in a different competition to begin with.

Thatsaid, perhaps such pragmatic pessimism is misplaced –the final 2012-13 Premier League table rather masked the impact that Liverpool’s January transfer activity, with Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho arriving at Anfield, had on the side. Coutinho was the latter of the two to make his Liverpool debut, on February 11th, and the league table from that point on reveals Liverpool picking up 1.92 points per game, and Tottenham 2.00 – this period including a head-to-head which the Reds won 3-2 at Anfield.Extrapolated over 38 matches, that form suggests a 3 or 4 point difference between the sides that finished last season in 5th and 7th.Furthermore, Tottenham’s summer activity was in spite of, or perhaps both necessitated and facilitated by, losing their key player, Gareth Bale, whilst Liverpool’s early activity continued to nurture a squad that, rather unexpectedly, still includes Luis Suárez – Sky Sports recently posted a comparison of Bale and Suárez’s 2012-13 season (33 games each), concluding that Bale was ‘responsible’ for a whole 24 points for Spurs and Suárez 11 points for Liverpool http://i.imgur.com/CxyhMuO.png. Both of these factors should give Liverpool supporters some optimism that they can close the gap to a Tottenham with a new found confidence – perhaps a more realistic aim than making an immediate 3 position, 12 point, leap to 4th place.It is always foolhardy to discount Arsenal, who during that same period led the form table with 2.42 points per game, but our supporters’ summer frustrations appeared rather frivolous by comparison to theirs.

Emotions continued to run high amongst Liverpool supporters, even after a promising return of six points from the opening two Premier League matches of 2013-14 – the Luis Suárez saga had taken an early toll and hysteria then switched to the absence of the widely-discussed “marquee” signing whilst Spurs seemed to be making hay. Doubts persisted in regard to the commitment of FSG to trust in the conviction of Rodgers and the ‘committee’, even if some conceded that mid-summer failings had perhaps seen Liverpool attempting to punch above their market weight.Two 1-0 victories provided a solid foundation for the campaign as the Reds demonstrated a new-found ability to take maximum points even when not performing at their best, a staple of top-sides, but the League Cup match against Notts County served as a reminder of deficiencies within the Liverpool squad – Kolo Toure, Aly Cissokho, and Joe Allen all sustained injuries that limited Rodgers’ selection ahead of the Manchester United visit.

Such emotions and frustrations are the reason why it was so refreshing and so encouraging to see the trio of Mamadou Sakho, Tiago Ilori, and loanee Victor Moses in the Main Stand as Liverpool secured a 1-0 victory against historical rivals Manchester United. Only days earlier, the Reds faced a defensive headache with the inexperienced Andre Wisdom seeming likely to deputise for the injured Kolo Toure – strangely there also appeared to be a Stewart Downing-shaped hole in the squad.Addressing these concerns comprehensively enough to enable Ian Ayre and Brendan Rodgers to bookend deadline day with drinks in hand, and having since provided a modest update on stadium development, has restored much faith in John W Henry and Tom Werner and the Club’s supporters can now point to both a fantastic start to the Premier League campaign and a summer of efficient transfer activity – two factors that should both be able to use the other as a springboard.

In Week Two’s ‘Reds Roundup’ http://www.theredmentv.com/watch/654Paul Machin spoke of the excitement and boost that a major signing could offer the Club – whether £17m defender Mamadou Sakho can provide the palpable excitement that accompanied the debuts of Harry Kewell, Fernando Morientes, Fernando Torres, and Javier Mascherano remains to be seen but, given the context of our promising start to 2013-14, we already have that “marquee”player waiting to make his Liverpool. Luis Suárez’s actions over the summer disappointed everyone connected to Liverpool Football Club and a poor start to the campaign would have tainted-via-necessity the return of a disgruntled forward – instead, Rodgers can welcome an apparently re-enthused Suárez on his own terms thanks to the performances of his squad thus far.

Liverpool have a host of returning players and exciting youngsters, have taken maximum points in the Premier League and progressed in the League Cup, Brendan Rodgers displays conviction in his vision for the future, and the Club appears in better health than it has done for years in the capable, respectful, and ambitious hands of John W Henry and FSG. That the Club has kept hold of it’s mercurial Uruguayan forward may be a begrudged highlight of the summer but if Luis Suárez can channel ‘La Garra Charrua’ via some ‘Scouse Solidarność’ then, citing Rafa’s mantra, “one game at a time” we might just begin to see genuine progression at Anfield for the first time in half a decade.

 

Originally published at: http://www.theredmentv.com/blog/p/14755.

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