Thursday, 8 August 2013

Luis Suarez: Football players and expectations of loyalty

Although there is stiff competition from the sagas around Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney, by far the most protracted, boring transfer epic over the close season has involved Luis Suarez.  Will Arsenal’s cheeky £40 million + £1 bid release him from his contract at Anfield?  Does he owe Liverpool a debt of loyalty, after the club stuck by him when he was accused of racism, and again, when he took a bite out of a Chelsea defender’s ear?

In the absence of an actual transfer, the newspapers have reported each minute nuance of Suarez’s relationship with his employers.  And for those of us with social media, it’s been possible to follow every scrap of gossip, every facial expression captured at every training session and every comment from every conceivable journalist or pundit, 24 hours a day, across hundreds of thousands of tweets, stretching back, it seems, beyond the dawn of time itself

When will the Uruguayan’s future ever be resolved?

The answer is by September 2nd,,when the window for clubs to buy new players closes.  By which point a number of competitive football matches will have taken place, forming a welcome distraction to endless dissection of the transfer market.  My personal contribution to the current tedium is that I believe Suarez will leave Liverpool before then.  But, it's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, as it were, in fact it's scarcely even the point any more.

Whatever odds bookmakers are offering on the striker getting the transfer he has so publicly asked for, you can take two things to the bank right now.  If Suarez joins Arsenal the tide of disillusionment which is currently building among Liverpool supporters will become a tsunami of outright loathing and, should he stay put and keep scoring goals, it will subside completely and the fans, however much they might deny it now, will love him more than ever.

Why on earth do we, football supporters that is, do this to ourselves?  Why do we never learn?

Why are we so ready to buy into the collective illusion that yet another player, probably with no prior family, geographical or emotional connection to the team, has bought in exclusively to the culture, traditions and aspirations of our chosen football club?  We have repeated experiences which prove otherwise. 

Fernando Torres was a classic example and, let’s face it, it wasn’t so very long ago.  “His armband said he was a Red, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ it said”, Liverpool fans sang about their talismanic striker.  This boy from a Spanish barrio, we told ourselves, had signalled his undying loyalty, before he even arrived at Anfield.  Then he moved to Chelsea, and expressed bemusement at the mass delusion that he was a fierce Kopite as well as a Liverpool player.  “But I come from Madrid”, he protested, not unreasonably, “I’m an Athletico fan”. 

Indeed, and you left your boyhood heroes to seek money and trophies at Liverpool, a club where you felt your prospects were brighter.  That’s what (most) players do.  Even Steven Gerrard, the epitome of a one-club man, the Scouser who will see out his career playing for his local team, came so close to joining Chelsea that a fan famously burnt his shirt outside the Melwood training ground in disgust.  Not an episode which will have been recounted too frequently in the pubs around Anfield, before or after Gerrard received deserved acclaim, at his testimonial match last Saturday.   

Yes, there probably is an argument that Liverpool deserves more loyalty from Suarez, after the club attracted opprobrium for sticking by him, when he allegedly used a racial epithet about an opposition player and when hebit another’s ear.  You have to ask, though, was there anything in the Uruguayan’s past behaviour or in his character which suggested he would see it that way?

Supporters would certainly prefer to see their prize asset join a club elsewhere then Europe, rather than sign for Arsenal, whose Champions League spot Liverpool covet.  But then, why, at this stage of the close-season, is the only firm offer, for a player considered one of the world’s best, about £20 million under his employers’ valuation?  The truth is that Suarez’s reputation and his antics precede him.  That’s why Liverpool hasn’t been fending off bids from other Champions’ League teams and it’s why Suarez is keen to make do with signing for Arsenal.  Liverpool’s loyalty to Suarez appears likely to cost the club an arguable £20 million in transfer fees and a major boost to one of its rivals.  Many people would argue it also cost Kenny Dalglish his job.

There’s no point in castigating Arsenal, whom Brendan Rodgers accused earlier this week of ‘lacking class’, either.  Were the roles reversed, were Liverpool attempting to lure a player away from the Emirates with the promise of European football, arguments about loyalty or propriety would cut little ice at Anfield.  In fact, we’ve been quick to accuse transfer targets of ‘lacking ambition’ in the past, when they’ve shown a bit of loyalty to their current club.             

Liverpool didn’t worry about Torres’s loyalty, as they lured him away from his boyhood team, Athletico Madrid, or Suarez’s readiness to leave Ajax.  Yet, at their new club, we expect that it will all be different and that they will buy into its aims so completely that they will only leave when their usefulness has been exhausted. 

Players often understand this delusion, play up to it and feed it.  Supporters are entitled to their myopia and it is part of what binds us together and makes football special. 

A note of caution though, if Suarez is sold and his replacement becomes just as successful, be a little sceptical about his undying commitment to Liverpool.  Daniel Aggers, in the world of football, are few and far between …….


Anonymous said...

Saurez could of course go to Chelsea on the sound principle, if you can't eat em, join em.

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