Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has matured as a player and a person since attempting to force his way out of Anfield during the summer, according to his manager Brendan Rodgers.
Suarez has had an eventful few months -- collecting a 10-match domestic ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April, then declaring publicly in a series of interviews over the close season that he wanted a transfer.
Away from football, the 26-year-old became a father for the second time in September when his wife Sofia gave birth to a son, Benjamin.
Suarez has scored six goals in five games for Liverpool since returning from his ban, and on Saturday will attempt to continue that run against Arsenal, who had tried to sign him during the summer.
Liverpool rejected two bids from the Gunners, including a notorious offer of £40,000,001, which was made in the mistaken belief that it would trigger a release clause in the Uruguay international’s contract, which runs until 2016.
The stand-off over Suarez became increasingly heated as the summer wore on, with the forward ordered to train alone for a while in August, while Liverpool’s principal owner John W Henry said that it would be “ludicrous” to sell him to a major Premier League rival such as Arsenal.
Rodgers insists all that is in the past now, but believes Suarez has grown up as a result of the saga.
He said: “The summer was full of all sorts of gossip and speculation, but we were very firm in our leadership from the top right the way through. This was something that we didn’t want to do. We really felt this was the place for Luis to showcase his talents.
“He’s a player, like some of our other players, who deserves to be playing at the very highest level of European football. But we believe he can do that here at Liverpool.
“There’s no greater stage for him than a club such as this. And once the window was shut, we never felt there was going to be any issue, because he’s one of the hardest-working players, who is in love with football, that I’ve seen.
“Since the window shut, he’s been brilliant. His appetite for the game is there, and I actually think he’s maturing as a man as well. He’s 26 years of age. He’s a father of two now, and I think the maturity in his game and his personal life is there to see.
“He’s a player we were really happy to keep, and he’s surrounded by other very good players as well.”
Rodgers was always confident that he had the backing of Henry and Fenway Sports Group -- the club’s Boston-based owners -- to ensure that Suarez would not be able to engineer an exit.
The manager said: “It was something that was never going to happen. I respect why Arsenal would want to buy a player of Luis’ quality, because he’s one of the leading strikers in the world.
“But for us, and the institution that we are, we certainly aren’t going to sell to a rival. That was something that was very strong right from the off. It’s a great credit to the owners and the leadership of the club that we stood by my thoughts as a manager and backed them all the way.”
Suarez had formed an impressive understanding in attack with Daniel Sturridge, who is the Premier League’s leading scorer this season with eight goals.
They are set to be aided by the return of Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who has not played since damaging his shoulder during the 2-2 Premier League draw at Swansea on Sept. 16.
Left-back Jose Enrique, though, remains doubtful with the knee problem that has kept him out of Liverpool’s last two matches.
Rodgers said: “Jose will be a question mark for the weekend, but Coutinho’s great. He’s been given the all-clear by the specialist to come in. He’s been training for the last few weeks, so he’ll come back into the squad.”