Just as nobody expected Liverpool to be quite so good this campaign, few predicted that Suarez would enjoy such a stunningly successful season.
The Uruguayan ended the 2012/2013 season having hit rock bottom. Following the notorious ‘bite-gate’ scandal, Suarez sat out the final four fixtures of the campaign as he completed just under half of his ten-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in a bizarre off-ball incident which revealed the darker side that seemingly haunted the talented but troubled number seven.
|One of all too many moments of madness|
That iniquitous act, adding to his long list of previous offences, including allegations of racism, goal-line handballs and even another biting incident, left him public enemy number one. Suarez’s only support in the footballing world came from inside Liverpool. That was until the summer, when he damaged his reputation among Kopites by desperately trying to manoeuvre a move away from Anfield to Premier League rivals Arsenal, even threatening to get the PFA involved in order to force the club to sell him.
As a result, many Liverpool supporters, understandably aggrieved by the betrayal of yet another star striker, called for the club to cash in and sell Suarez. He was deemed a liability due to his volatile character and it was maintained that the club was bigger than any one player and would cope in his absence. Doubts were also raised as to whether denying him the move he so evidently wanted would reduce his commitment to the Reds’ cause, negatively affecting both his attitude and performance levels.
Those worries proved unfounded, however, as Suarez has produced world class performances week in, week out during what has been the best season of the 27-year old’s career. The 30 goals he has scored in the same number of games and his dynamic partnership with fellow frontman Daniel Sturridge has not only propelled the Reds towards the upper echelons of the Premier League table, but also earned Suarez personal glory.
|Luis Suarez- PFA Player of the Year|
On Sunday evening, following Liverpool’s disappointing two-goal defeat at home to Chelsea, Suarez was crowned PFA Player of the Year in a ceremony in London. It showed not only his stunning form, but also his welcoming back into the footballing community.
Having been despised by everyone but his own supporters for so long, it was momentous that Suarez received such an important award as the result of the votes of fellow professional footballers. Many of them may dislike him for his supposed diving and, perhaps more pertinently, the fact that he almost always scores goals against them, but none of them could deny his unmistakable world class talent.
As important as Suarez’s goals have been to Liverpool this season, the transformation in his attitude has arguably been more significant and will reap considerable long term benefits for the club. The Uruguayan’s ability has been well-known for a long time, but only this season has he finally matured and come of age as a player.
The passion and will to win rightly remains there, but it is tempered by rationality previously conspicuous by its absence. He will still appeal for every decision and fight until the end for all three points, but the nagging worries that he might lose it and kick out at an opponent or sink his teeth into their skin have subsided. Rodgers and club psychologist Dr Steve Peters seem to have worked their magic on Suarez and helped him see sense. He finally recognises that a touch of madness isn’t necessary to be a footballing genius.
His maturation has perhaps predictably coincided with greater responsibility. In the absence of Steven Gerrard and vice-captain Daniel Agger, Rodgers has often handed Suarez the captain’s armband. In addition, Suarez seems to be revelling in his role as mentor to young Raheem Sterling.
The benefits for Sterling from that relationship have been obvious- the 19-year old has managed his highest goal tally this season and his performances will almost certainly seal him a place on the plane to Brazil this summer- but Suarez has substantially benefitted from it as well, albeit in an intangible manner.
|Suarez and Sterling have been on top form this season|
The responsibility it has given him in the development of a young player has arguably helped instil in him a far more healthy and constructive mentality and I, for one, cannot wait to see the pair combine with Daniel Sturridge in the Champions League next season. If this season is anything to go by, Europe’s top defences better be worried.
Just as Liverpool appear to have turned a corner this season and seem to be on their way to competing at the top of the table on a routine basis once again, Suarez seems to have gone through a crucial stage of development this season.
He’s a better person and a better player and, should his career continue on its current trajectory, it won’t be long before he becomes a Liverpool legend as well.