With the Uruguayan currently in sensational form, the question is now being asked as to where the forward ranks in the club’s lengthy list of legends
By Wayne Veysey
There is a growing debate among Liverpool worshippers as they assess the sustained brilliance of Luis Suarez: where should he be placed in the Anfield pantheon?
Long-time observers trot out the hallowed names in the club’s history and warn that greatness is partly defined by longevity.
Others marvel at Suarez’s breathtaking performances week in, week out and are beginning to wonder whether there has ever been a better player to wear the famous red shirt.
In the Kop’s honours system, Kenny Dalglish is usually annointed in a category of his own. Most judges agree who should be crowned king and everyone else is playing for second place.
Does Suarez deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Dalglish, John Barnes, Graeme Souness, Kevin Keegan, Billy Liddell and modern-day greats Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher?
Absolutely. His displays are making an unarguable case for his entry into the very top tier of Liverpool players.
The high-water mark was the four-goal masterclass last week against Norwich City, one of the greatest individual performances in Premier League history.
Yet, the measure of Suarez’s excellence is the consistency with which he is complementing prolific scoring with moments of jaw-dropping skill. Increasingly, both at the same time.
The dubious goals panel may rob Suarez of a third goal-of-the-season contender in four days, as his second against West Ham on Saturday took a heavy deflection off Joey O’Brien, but it does not take the gloss off the quality.
At a club whose history glitters with outstanding forwards – from Roger Hunt, Ian St John, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan, Dalglish, John Aldridge and Ian Rush through to icons of the Premier League era, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Fernando Torres – Suarez faces mighty competition for a place in the all-time rankings. Yet it is questionable whether any of the Uruguayan’s gilded predecessors provided as big a threat to opponents as he is doing at the moment.
Like Dalglish, Suarez’s excellence cannot be defined merely by numbers. His enterprise, touch and inventiveness demand that he is the first name on the team-sheet whether he is finding the back of the net or not.
Nonetheless, the statistics are persuasive. In the 11 matches since his return from a 10-match suspension, Suarez has scored an astonishing 14 goals, all in the Premier League. In 107 games for Liverpool, he has scored 65 goals in total.
These are almost identical numbers to Aldridge (63 in 104), a penalty-box predator who was being fed by Barnes and Peter Beardsley in arguably the most fluent Liverpool side of them all.
Suarez has become as prolific as any Liverpool forward in history, not bad for a player positionally categorised by Brendan Rodgers as a ‘nine-and-a-half’ and who was criticised for the sloppiness of his finishing in the first half of his career at the club.
Technically outstanding, instinctive, two-footed, competitive and with an edge to his game, his all-round skills have elevated him to the tier in world football directly below Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Like those two, his virtuosity matches his hunger and durability.
Even taking into account Suarez’s temperament flaws, many indiscretions and the way he tried to engineer his exit to, first, Real Madrid and then Arsenal last summer, the Uruguayan must command elite status in the Liverpool pantheon.
Yet exactly where depends for how long he continues to mesmerise in a red jersey. Liverpool will be confident of fending off interest from Real Madrid in their prize asset in January. Next summer promises to be a more testing proposition, with or without the carrot of Champions League football in 2014-15.
Should Suarez remain at the club, he could go down as the best Liverpool player there has ever been. There are few higher compliments.
TIREDNESS – NOT HEAT, SUAREZ OR BALOTELLI – IS ENGLAND’S BIGGEST OPPONENT
Of all the reactions to England’s World Cup draw, none was more damning than that offered by Fabio Capello.
Asked about the clash between England and his native Italy in the Amazonian rainforest, Capello observed: “England players will not be at the top of their physical condition And Manaus will be really, really warm. It will be tougher for England. Italy sometimes arrive tired But, in England, the football is stronger, faster – they never stop.”
Handed a bunch of exhausted players before the 2010 tournament, Capello’s assessment is worth remembering before we get too carried away with the potential of Ross Barkley, Daniel Sturridge and Luke Shaw, or the consistent majesty of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.
The exertions of an English campaign, supplemented by the wilting heat of Brazil, are likely to be even more decisive next June than the on-pitch threats of Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli.
It is a shame But it would reckless to ignore this time-honoured reality.