It’s almost a year on to the day that this season’s chief terroriser of defenders, bit a fellow professional on the football field. I am of course talking about Luis Suarez, who up until recently was widely regarded as public enemy number one and something of an enigma. So when you see the scale of the transformation that has taken place this season, it is all the more remarkable.
Suarez’s turbulent arrival at Liverpool in January 2011 was somewhat synonymous of the many controversies he would play a huge part in over the coming years. Having only recently chewed on the ear of an opponent while playing for Ajax, you would have assumed Liverpool knew what they were getting themselves into. Marvellous skill and a crazed genius that came hand in hand with the unpredictable and the downright stupid. Despite some flashes of brilliance and only the occasional goal, his first six months in a red shirt passed by in relative silence. Punctuating this however was his tendency to ‘simulate’ a foul or more simply, dive to gain decisions. From the outset, he gave no reason for football fans to hold him in high esteem.
But I’m sure not even the boldest of us could have predicted the furore that occurred in October 2011, when the Uruguayan forward made an alleged racist remark, of which he was later found guilty. Despite the perhaps ill-advised support emanating from the Liverpool camp in the aftermath, and the now infamous t-shirts, public opinion was now against Suarez almost without exception. Having served his suspension and Liverpool’s form hardly exceeding expectations, it seemed certain that his exit was imminent. However, the January transfer window came and went with nothing materialising above rumour and speculation. The diving, moaning and; perhaps the most frustrating trait for Liverpool fans, his goal-shy form, continued for the duration of the season.
In hindsight, it is quite possibly the arrival of Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2012 that would eventually be the catalyst for an upturn in Suarez’s fortunes. An unrelenting faith was shown in him as a forward, and quite a prolific one he proved to be. In a way not too dissimilar to Guardiola’s Barcelona, everything was fed through the maverick front-man. Suddenly, the metaphorical barn door could most certainly be hit by a banjo, and a lot more besides. Now pivotal to Liverpool’s success in seemingly all matches, the goals began to flow and even his diving habit was subsiding if not yet completely diminished. While public opinion had not been completely swayed, the mere fact that he was under strong consideration for Player of the Year was indication enough that his reputation was slowly improving. This notion however, came to an abrupt halt when he was again involved in a biting incident, this time to the detriment of Branislav Ivanovic.
With the video of his antics going viral over the following hours and days, surely this was the last straw for Suarez’s tenure at Liverpool. With his punishment decided, and not playing for the final few matches of the season, all but a few believed that we had seen the last of him in the red of Liverpool. Should they receive a substantial bid in the summer, anyone would want to cut their losses, right? Surely?
The cement-like stance taken by owner John W Henry and Brendan Rodgers left Suarez with no choice but to knuckle down on Merseyside, and there is no doubt he has achieved that. For the first time whilst he has been in England, he has played with a smile, not spoken out of turn in the Uruguayan media regarding a switch from these shores, and noticeably has not been carded for diving all season. There has quite simply been a contented aura around him in the current term which has seen him go on to score more league goals for a Liverpool player since the Premier League’s birth. Another important point to note is the frequency in which he now carries out interviews in English. This cannot be underestimated as it not only gives Liverpool fans greater access to him, but allows other fans to gain a greater understanding of the man himself. Is the transformation from archetypal villain to goal-scoring hero complete if he is named Player of the Year in a few weeks and he fires Liverpool to their first ever Premier League title? I certainly believe so.
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