There are so many ways to look at or even define the "Luis Suarez situation" that it makes life difficult when you're trying to come up with a central theme upon which to base a column. Luis Suarez was a conundrum for Liverpool BEFORE he stepped out for a bite of Italian in Brazil and that incident and the quotes coming out of his camp while in Brazil have made things even more chaotic. Since this site is focused almost entirely on the Premier League, we'll resist the urge to play junior psychologist and analyze what might make an otherwise successful human being turn vampire in public and thereby putting his career in jeopardy. We'll avoid analyzing the impact on Uruguay's World Cup fortunes, the impact on Colombia's World Cup fortunes, the potential downstream impact for others (Brazil, Germany and France) in Uruguay's side of the draw. We'll even avoid the somewhat Premier League-related implications of FIFA making a disciplinary ruling that impacts a club team.
What we ARE here to talk about is what comes next for Liverpool and Luis Suarez and how it is likely to impact the plans being made by other teams in the Premier League as well. Should be interesting so let's get started.
Why Liverpool Should Keep Suarez
The first part of this answer is very easy, he's really freakin' good. As an added bonus, he's not only one of the best players in the world but he's a great fit for what Brendan Rodgers wants to do because he is versatile and can pop up in a lot of different places on the pitch and do damage.
The second part of the answer is only slightly less obvious but should be mentioned. Just about everything went right for Liverpool last season and they still managed to fall just short of the Premier League title. When I say "everything went right" I don't just mean that their key players stayed very healthy and their younger players - Henderson, Sterling, and Flanagan - took significant steps forward. I also mean that the teams around them near the top of the table were less fortunate either by design or bad luck. Manchester City was missing their best attacker, Sergio Aguero, for significant stretches of the season and working with a new manager. Chelsea were overhauling their squad and their new manager was spending as much time evaluating players as competing for a title. Arsenal had an ugly string of injuries that took an entire midfield worth of starters out of the line-up for the better part of two months. Manchester United picked the wrong manager and/or didn't get moving on overhauling their aging squad nearly soon enough.
Year 2 under new management for City and Chelsea are likely to be better than Year 1. Both clubs have launched aggressive campaigns to shore up their weak spots and, despite FFP, seem to be spending money like they're minting it. City are also likely to have Sergio Aguero for a higher percentage of the season than they did last season. Manchester United have a proven commodity in place at manager and are finally buying the young talent that they should have been buying up over the past few seasons with Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw already filling important gaps with more likely to come. At this point, Arsenal haven't improved any but at the very least they are unlikely to experience a similar grouping of injuries to key players even if the overall number wouldn't be surprising. The Gunners also have hope in the form of improvements from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Serge Gnabry, and/or Joel Campbell similar to what Liverpool got from Sterling, Henderson and Flanagan last year.
My point is that while the depth Liverpool have acquired so far in the form of Emre Can, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana will only help them keep up in the Premier League arms race if they can keep their core stars together as well. Failure to do so will undo all the good they've done in the transfer market so far and put them far closer to the outside looking in than the title.
Why Liverpool Should Move Suarez
Heading into the summer when the rumors of a Suarez move were only as solid as the transfer gossip pages of Marca and the rest there was no reason to think about selling Suarez from a team that finished second and had had a very productive transfer window thus far adding depth. Since the start of the summer two critical things have changed. First, Luis Suarez's camp, in the form of relatives and agents, have started agitating for a move to Spain in the way that makes a move seem inevitable if we've learned anything from watching Ronaldo, Henry, Fabregas, and Bale make similar moves in years past. I'm not sure why management doesn't feel more inclined to force players to stick to their contracts as they do in most other sports but for some reason they don't.
The second thing that has happened is obviously the big headline grabber - The Bite, Part III - I'll Have Italian. Perhaps Brendan Rodgers' least favorite sequel of the summer blockbuster season. Over and above Suarez's desire to leave, The Bite has two implications for Liverpool trying to keep their talisman:
- Assuming the FIFA punishment stands up he will miss almost a quarter of the league season and a chunk of the Champions League group stage.
- The fact that it is his third offense puts Liverpool at huge risk that, if it happens again (and who could rule that out at this point), he could be lost a full season or even more which would effectively kill his value to the club as either a player on the field or an asset to be sold.
In a perfect world where Suarez doesn't bite people and contracts in European soccer have meaning, this would be a decision about whether Liverpool can get better by using a huge transfer fee from Suarez to buy new players all over the pitch. In the world we actually inhabit, the question is what the best way for Liverpool to get the most out of an asset whose value is declining. Spurs certainly had a difficult time trading a Top 10 attacking talent in the world (Gareth Bale) for even close to equal value last summer. Ditto Arsenal and Robin van Persie/Samir Nasri/Gael Clichy two summers ago.
You'll notice that I haven't once mentioned the fact that Suarez has betrayed the trust of the supporters and club who lined up to support him when he bit Ivanovic the season before last. Looking in from the outside, you'd think that they would feel betrayed and want the club to be done with a three time loser like that. From the outside, that makes sense. I'd imagine that if I asked a statistically significant sample of Liverpool supporters, they'd be more than happy to find a way to rationalize keeping Suarez if they thought (and how could they not) that he gave them a better chance of winning a Premier League title next season. That sort of moral stand just doesn't happen any more. "Bringing the game into disrepute" is only something that you can scream about when it happens to other clubs and can MAYBE abide by if imposed by a governing body like the Premier League or UEFA but it isn't something that most supporters will accept from their own management. Perhaps a fringe player could be sent away as supporters beat their chest about the moral superiority of their management (see Anelka, Nicolas) but not a star player. Only Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger among Premier League managers have the stature to do something like that without backlash and Wenger would be treading on thin ice if he did.
So, What Next?
The thing I can't get away from when I look at what is essentially a no-win situation for Liverpool is that they can't afford to have their most valuable asset turn to sand while still in their possession. Barcelona and Real Madrid can. You have to sell the player and hope for the best in buying replacements to try to make up for the unique gap Suarez's departure would cause. You don't have to do it because it's the right moral thing to do, you have to do it because of the significant and growing risk that he does this again and you are without him anyway with no replacements and little hope for selling him on for anything close to his current valuation.
If that is what Liverpool decide what to do then there are a few reasons for hope that they will fare better than Spurs did with the post-Bale buying spree:
- Champions League Football - Spurs had a great season the year before Bale left but they finished agonizingly short of the Top Four and therefore couldn't offer potential new recruits Champions League football which meant that there were some options that likely just weren't available to them no matter how much money they had to spend. You'd imagine that was probably the difference between getting Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado.
- Brand - While the Liverpool "brand" hasn't been exceptional on the world stage for a number of years they have won the Champions League in the lifetime of the players they will be recruiting and have an exceptional history in England and across the globe that they can revive. The Spurs brand has just never reached those heights and despite Spurs being able to offer cosmopolitan London players have to settle for playing for the third biggest team in their own city if they sign with Spurs.
- Stability - When Bale left, Spurs were in the middle of a series of managerial transitions that still hasn't settled down with the manager at the time, AVB, having an uncertain amount of influence over transfer targets. Liverpool will go into the transfer market with a well-defined system and a manager who has proven worthy of the club's confidence if he suggests that they go after Player A instead of Player B.
None of this is to say that this will ensure success - Arsenal enjoy all of the above advantages and haven't necessarily done any better than treading water when selling off their best players - but it certainly provides some hope that Liverpool won't fall out of the top four without a fight if they sell Suarez this summer.