First published on FootyMatters.com
Luis Suarez is, arguably, the form striker in the world at the moment, having carried, almost single-handedly, his Liverpool side to the top of the Premier League table with a staggering 19 goals in just 12 league appearances, despite having missed the beginning of the season with a suspension.
For many, Suarez will always be the man who abused Evra, bit, several players, or even handballed on the goal-line to deny Ghana a quarter-final place at South Africa’s World Cup. However, there is almost no-one to be found who can deny that he is a simply brilliant footballer. The real question is whether the Uruguayan’s past misdemeanours have made to be forgotten by his brilliance on the pitch.
He won’t figure in the top three when Ballon D’Or comes round on January 13th; there isn’t a lot of argument that Cristiano Ronaldo will win it. That is almost unquestionable, given his unerring and truly staggering form, both for club and country; his sensational hat-trick against Sweden will live long in the memory, particularly the moment when one of his team-mates celebrated before he had even shot when one-on-one with the keeper, so sure was he of the result.
Suarez too is a player whose goal can be celebrated before it crosses the line; his prodigious talent has now migrated into the consistent goal-scoring form which he demonstrated in the Erevidisie. His character is currently the only thing that holds him back in the public eye, but what has been cynically called a massive PR drive over the last six months has started to win over the public. Most recently, Suarez was handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard. The honour of leading out Liverpool at Anfield is one conferred upon very few, and one which Brendan Rodgers would certainly not have given to his Uruguayian talisman 18,12, or even 6 months ago.
Rodgers is a true man-manager, as well as a studious tactician, and he has identified what makes Suarez tick. What exactly that is, whether it was a change of training regime or making sure he had his special Uruguayian tea, is guesswork at best, but more than ever Suarez now appears to be a team player.
It has reflected in his performances and in his work-rate especially. Even in the drubbing of Tottenham, up until the very minute he left the field Suarez was making runs in behind, asking for the ball, closing down clearances, and putting himself about. In his most recent game against Cardiff, when he scored two of the goals and assisted the other one, Gary Neville highlighted him giving Flanagan advice about when to get forward, and when to hold his run. His engagement with the other players is rare to see in one so integral to a team’s success, and speaks volumes of his respect for Rodgers and the coaching staff.
Luis Suarez will may not win any personal accolades this year, for wrong or right reasons, but if his current level of football and behaviour continues perpetually then its fair to say Suarez will have won a few friends at least.