The leaving of Liverpool

Posted by John Brewin

One of the greatest mistakes a football fan can make is confusing professionalism for passion. Luis Suarez has proved himself to be a great professional for Liverpool this season, probably the best around, but that does not mean he has not thought about leaving Liverpool and wants to stay forever. He will leave one day. Getting fans used to the idea might be the most difficult thing about it.

- Rzouki: Juve still keen on Suarez

When Suarez was quoted last week as suggesting that his future may lie with a club with "more prospects", Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre was quickly out of the blocks. The time-honoured words "lost in translation" were present and correct. The usual pitch was queered a little by Suarez. According to him, English translators had not got things wrong at all. No, and even though they were recorded for everybody to listen to and translate, his words had been twisted by a Uruguayan radio station. Suarez threatened a media ban on Uruguayan journalists.

So, a variation on a common theme, but not enough to dissuade that something might be afoot. It hardly helped that the weekend saw fellow striker Edinson Cavani suggest that his international team-mate and friend had told him he wants to play Champions League football. Juventus in particular seem keen to test Liverpool's resolve. As Steven Gerrard said in a TV appearance in January: "Luis Suarez deserves to be in the Champions League. I think everyone has to admit that."

Other reports suggest Brendan Rodgers has been given £20 million net to spend this summer by Fenway Sports Group. He needs two centre-backs at the very least, another dominant midfielder and most probably another striker. Liverpool owe £87 million too. For the Reds to return to the Champions League, they might have to sell their player who most belongs in the competition.

The temptation to cash Suarez in might be tempting when such an overhaul is required, but Rodgers the populist would not want to be the man to kill Bambi. Neither would fan-in-the-boardroom Ian Ayre. Suarez himself clearly does not want to be seen to be publicly looking for a move. It may all come down to who blinks first. Nobody likes to be seen as the one who broke up a once-beautiful relationship, but it will happen. Footballers leave football clubs every transfer window. Just because they are happy at a club - as Suarez undoubtedly is at Liverpool - does not mean they think they can never be happy elsewhere.

Liverpool fans have been hurt before. That does not preclude them from being hurt again. Broken hearts do not ease with experience. When the day comes, only a carefully managed exit can stop them feeling and behaving like jilted lovers. Fernando Torres' torrid time at Chelsea has offered sweet schadenfraude, especially since Suarez arrived instead, give or take Andy Carroll, but it still ached badly when Torres left them. In following Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano out, Torres' departure was confirmation of a dwindling status among the elite. Fans had believed that Torres 'got' Liverpool, and he understood them but he had still asked to leave.

Michael Owen's announcement last week that his career is at an end generated rather sour responses from many Liverpool followers. Many chose not to fondly remember the good times when Owen's teenage riot twice won him the Premier League golden boot, and five trophies were collected in the calendar year of 2001. He was Liverpool's top scorer in all six full seasons he played for them. Instead, he had betrayed them by signing for Real Madrid for £8 million where he had once been worth treble that.

That Owen's greatest failing at Liverpool was not being like Robbie Fowler is a common Kopite accusation but Fowler himself left Anfield. When Gerard Houllier preferred an Owen and Emile Heskey partnership, Fowler sought fresh pastures at Leeds United. The same happened when Rafael Benitez decided that he could do without Owen. It is what professional footballers and managers will always do. And it is what Luis Suarez will eventually do. Acts of supposed disloyalty cut both ways in football.

It might not happen this summer, since Suarez might be persuaded into one last push for a Champions League campaign with Liverpool. He is 26 and signed up until 2017 but currently playing for a club whose best chance of European competition probably lies in the Fairplay League. Only finishing fifth can guarantee a European place outside the top four. Even if Suarez stays, Liverpool's non-participation in Europe presents a risk of carpetbagging. It would mean he was not cup-tied. Champions League clubs would still want him in January.

Flattery can get you everywhere, but it might not be enough to keep Suarez. Rodgers has made it his business to praise Suarez at almost every turn. Fans and players alike have pushed Suarez's candidacy for PFA Player of the Year. Steven Gerrard again: "If he doesn't win an award this year, he'll be the best player ever not to win an award."

No fanbase in the world possesses the internet mobilisation skills of Liverpool supporters. At the end of the 2010-11 season, Raul Meireles - remember him? -was voted PFA Fans Player of the Year having played for a team that finished sixth. Individual awards may matter much more than they used to but winning them is no substitute for collective success. Liverpool fans probably do not remember 1980 and 1988 as the years that Terry McDermott and Steve Nicol won player of the year awards. Liverpool were league champions in both years. Players prefer to play in winning teams.

Suarez owes Liverpool fans plenty. They back him to the hilt, even when his behaviour has been in danger of making their defence of him look irrational and misguided. This season, he has rewarded them with stellar performances and a steady flow of goals, and has been the best player in the Premier League. They ought to enjoy him while they still can.

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