I wasn’t looking forward to Liverpool’s game against Stoke. To be fair, I don’t think anyone ever looks forward to a Stoke game. But this was Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011; our first game after the farcical transfer window of January 2011. We had just sold Fernando Torres for a record £51 million to Chelsea and subsequently added numbers’ 7 and 10 to fill the void.
I remember that game vividly. I had bet some money with a Manchester United supporting friend of mine that Suarez would score for Liverpool before Torres would for Chelsea. Laughable today.
The constant flashes of the camera that night to Carroll and Suarez did little to ease my mind. To me, the message was clear: the days of Rafa Benitez were officially at an end. No more Alonso, Mascherano and El Niño. We were now a team of Konchesky’s and Jovanovic’s. But, on that 79th minute, when Suarez pranced around the Stoke defence and Asmir Begovic to score on his debut, I couldn’t help but feel this was a new era. This was a sign of things to come. No doubt, you will one day feel the same should Luis Suarez play for Arsenal. This is an interesting time for your club, perhaps your best chance for Premier League glory since 2004/5, especially if you sign El Pistolero. But be warned. I have had two and a half years of experience and can provide you with my thoughts on what to expect should you shatter your transfer record for the enigma that is Luis Suarez.
Suarez as a player
I am no expert on how Arsenal play. All I know is, counter-attacking, high tempo football with an emphasis on retaining possession is a big part of Wenger’s philosophy. In fact, AFC had the second highest average possession last season with 57%. There is also a strong team dynamic to Arsenal’s well-rehearsed lines, and organization without the ball was excellent in the last 10 games of the season. Arsene Wenger no doubt knows that Suarez is very tactically adept and can easily fit into the Arsenal system. This season, he has flourished under a high possession and high pressing game, and his speed and agility will balance your team well, especially since Arsenal play a high defensive line. Most excitingly for Arsenal fans, he should form a great partnership with Carzola, just as he has with Phil Coutinho at Liverpool. Carzola’s clear cut chance stats (1 every 225 minutes), pass completion rate (87%) and forward pass attempts (29%) are all positive signals that could suggest a fruitful partnership. Furthermore, Suarez’s inclusion in your squad does not necessarily mean less playing time for the improving Giroud. Suarez is not a natural goal scorer, but a chance creator. He is not particularly useful for knock downs or during corners. This is where Giroud’s strengths, especially in positioning, can balance Suarez’s weaknesses – hopefully more so than Andy Carroll. Should he be used as a roaming, attacking number 10, alongside Giroud, he will be successful. He played as such at Ajax where Huntelaar was CF (and later on Cvitanich) and this season alongside Sturridge.
Further, Suarez is converting himself into a dead ball specialist. His free kicks for Uruguay in the Confederations Cup and for Liverpool against Zenit this year are just some examples. He is said to practice deadballs during rest breaks at training. Finally, Suarez gets into the skin of his opponents easily. He kicks, eye gouges, pinches, and trips opponents. What’s more is that Suarez has an aggressive, winning attitude. He hates to lose. Wenger said in his recent Google Hangout that there are 2 types of people in this world, “those who enjoy winning” and “those that hate to lose.” Wenger claimed he absolutely hated to lose. He clearly sees himself cut from the same cloth – he surely recognizes Suarez’s grit, ambition and creativity as the force needed to propel Arsenal into title contenders with a winning mentality. I also think that Suarez, should he join and make an impact, will be a means for Arsenal to attract more quality players in later windows.
There are certain things to be aware of, however, should Suarez join you. Firstly, he is not the best team player and often criticizes others. He routinely bursts at players who don’t pass him the ball or who make mistakes. An incident with 19-year-old Jack Robinson springs to mind during an FA Cup game against Oldham Athletic, who made the error of shooting when Suarez was in a goal scoring position. Granted, he may be right in many of those situations, but the way he handles it is not always the best for team morale. Second, he can be easily fazed. Regulars at Anfield state that it is not uncommon to find Suarez with his hands in the air or on his head for the majority of a game. This is not always obvious on TV, but if you watch highlights of Liverpool’s game against West Ham at Anfield, you will notice how Jim Collins frustrated Suarez throughout the 90 minutes, reducing him to constant complaining. It is no surprise then than many managers look to target Suarez physically as part of their strategy to mitigate the Uruguayan’s creative flair.
The most important thing, however, is Suarez’s wastefulness. He gave away possession most for Liverpool last season and takes far too many shots to score a goal. Liverpool’s win percentage is 56% with Suarez and 39% without him since his arrival. In 2012, Liverpool scored 2.6 goals per game when he wasn’t present, compared to 1.76 when he was. Granted he has played more games than he has missed, making the comparison meek, but this is still an embarrassing statistic for our so-called best player. There are some straightforward explanations as to why, but that is a whole different tactical discussion.
But the reason I bring this up is to highlight Suarez’s wastefulness. At face value, he may appear to be a prolific goal scorer, but it’s not necessarily the case. He had an entire team playing to his strengths last season. As such, it was his sheer volume of shots that meant his goalscoring record looks impressive. Let’s not forget, it only was twelve months ago, August 2012, that many – including Gary MacAllister – were saying that Suarez is not a good enough striker, and will never score more than 20 goals a season. There is always a risk that his wastefulness could not work with Arsenal’s possession game.
Suarez as a person
1. He is motivated by money more than anything: Although an aggressive, highly talented player, it is evident that Suarez’s primary concern is his paycheck. In the 2 and half years he has been at Liverpool, he has signed three contracts. That is unheard of. Also, as soon as his performances peaked in 2012, he was at MD Ian Ayre’s door asking for an improved deal, and he got it.
He has also had over 2 months to put in a transfer request but hasn’t done so yet. If he was so determined to be close to family in Spain, escape the English media, play in the Champions League, would it not be wise to ensure a quick (and less expensive) transfer with an official transfer request? Especially over taking LFC to court. I suppose the thought of losing significant loyalty bonuses may be factor. Granted, I think he will hand one in now as it as his last option. Sad to say that bad mouthing Liverpool isn’t the last option for him.
Liverpool’s wages are performance based, and he earns £80,000 a week before bonuses (estimated at £120,000 per week gross). Arsenal will undoubtedly be offering a nice sign-on bonus and a wage that breaks your ceiling by over £2 million a year, assuming he earns £140,000 a week. It may be sour grapes, but is this really a player you want in the dressing room – a player so driven by money? He will be out earning Lucas Podolski and Santi Carzola by some degree. Won’t their agents, too, come knocking on Wenger’s door next season? It only makes sense.
Also, imagine Suarez scoring 25+ goals next season. Yes, you may come close to winning the league, but don’t think for a second that he won’t hold the club to ransom. All you need to do is examine the prior systematic pattern of behavior. What would this teach Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere? Finally, remember: Bayern, PSG, Chelsea, City, and, most importantly, Madrid and Barcelona can pay much more in wages than Arsenal can.
If he joins you, alarm bells should be ringing.
2. He says what he wants & is devoid of shame: One of the things that struck me initially about Suarez was the way he spoke, full of melodrama, exaggeration and, frankly, deceit. In his early interviews, he stated, “it was only four years ago that I was playing on the Playstation and I was always Liverpool and to have Gerrard in my team was great.” Liverpool fans on Twitter went wild. I had my doubts. The dots didn’t quite connect. He went on to say, after re-signing for the third time last summer, that he is now “a Liverpool fan,” and is committed to the club for the long term. In January and March of this year, Suarez reaffirmed that he would stay at Liverpool even if we didn’t reach the Champions League.
I’m going ignore the way he has tried to engineer his exit from Liverpool. But think about it for yourself: first it was the way his wife and daughter couldn’t leave the house, then the way the media treated him. Now it’s Champions League football? Pure deceit. As Daniel Taylor wrote: ““My record shows that I’m not the kind of player who wants to change clubs every season,” Suárez says. No, this would be his fourth transfer in eight years. So, to clarify, every other season. That kind of player.”
The second point is that he has no shame. Lying to and embarrassing Kenny Dalglish by refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand? Bad mouthing the club; lying about broken promises that were never made? This is a club that has stood by him during the darkest moments of his career. Yet now he sulks on the field during Steven Gerrard’s testimonial game and rejects the support of 95,000+ fans chanting his name in Melbourne. It pains me to say it, but this man is devoid of shame.
Why does this matter? First, because you should not be swayed by the comments he throws your way when he signs. Face it; you are a stepping-stone to what he really wants. Second, because Arsene Wenger and AFC are about principles. As Henry Winter pointed out, “Arsenal became the first club to receive the Advanced Level of Kick It Out’s Equality Standard. Arsenal have…long campaigned against racism [with] their admirable Arsenal for Everyone initiative.” Ivan Gazidis stated, “we fully recognise there is a lot to be done to eradicate all forms of discrimination in football and beyond.”
People argue Wenger can change his attitude. Look what he did for Tony Adams, for Van Persie, they say. I agree. I respect Wenger a lot and have faith he will redirect a lot of Suarez’s negative energy. But this man has also rejected the advances of Dr. Steven Peters, renowned sports psychologist who helped the UK cycling team win gold in 2012. He time and time again embarrassed Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s most iconic player and a winner of 4 Premier League and 2 FA Cup titles as a manager. Yes, Wenger can change him for the better. But a lot has been tried already. As Henry Winters states, Suarez clearly has a “propensity for deceit ingrained in his DNA. He’s toxic.”
Last season Arsenal won the Fair Play award, as you did in 2004 and 2005. Now you are trying to sign a player who called Evra a “negro” seven times, cheated in a world cup, bit 2 different players, and admitted to diving. Is the price to pay for success? Does Suarez’ on field performance outweigh the legacy Wenger has built for the club?
3. He only cares about Luis Suarez: Suarez is clearly very motivated, and will no doubt be that way whenever he wears the red of Arsenal. However, his motivation and ambition is self-serving. This is football after all. The way Suarez went to The Guardian – the media, the very people he accused of ruining his life in England – to get what he wants is laughable. That too, to look for support from the PFA, at whose awards show he was booed earlier this year, to mediate the situation is almost admirable. Furthermore, the fashion in which he exited Groningen and Ajax is frightening. He took Groningen to court after the club rejected a €3.5 million bid from Ajax. They insisted the bid did not reflect the striker’s market value and were eventually taken to court by the player. While the court ruled in Groningen’s favor, Ajax submitted another bid of €7.5 million and, with bridges burned, Suarez got the move he desired. Four years on, he bit Ottman Bakal and never played a game for Ajax again. Does any of this sound familiar?
Once again, alarm bells should be ringing.