For a club which has historically flourished on the foundations provided by its British players, Liverpool’s foreign imports hold a special place in each supporter’s heart. So one can imagine the anguish when Fernando Torres submitted a transfer request in January 2011, and subsequently moved to Chelsea on deadline day. Liverpool had always had world-class strikers at their disposal since the 1960s and 1970s. At their peak, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen could have walked into any side in the world from any era.
Torres, though, was something different. He had Owen’s pace, Rush and Fowler’s finishing ability, Toshack’s areal ability, and Dalglish and Keegan’s power to link up with his partner in crime, Steven Gerrard. But most of all, the romance of a lad from sunny Spain adopting the port city of Liverpool as home and declaring his love for the club before he even joined was unforgettable. It takes a lot to leave your home club and move to a foreign country, and the scousers recognised Torres’ sacrifices, and loved him for it. Until, of course, he decided to switch the red of Liverpool for the blue of Chelsea. Class may be permanent, but love, is temporary.
Or that was people would have believed for five weeks after Torres’ departure.
Luis Suarez had scored on his Liverpool debut against Stoke, scuffing in a finish inside 16 minutes of coming on from the bench on February 2. There had been some indications that he would do more than just manage to put the ball across the line over the coming months, but fans really got an idea of what they had on their hands in March 2011, when Dirk Kuyt scored a hat-trick against Manchester United but Suarez stole all the plaudits, having put on a display of skill and close control rarely seen in England. It was Messi-esque, full of twists and turns, of the impossible and the unimaginable. The red half of Merseyside slept soundly that night: Torres would not be missed after all.
Luis Suarez gestures after scoring his hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion on October 26 at Anfield, Liverpool.
The summer of 2013, then, brought a sense of déjà vu. Suarez tried every trick in the book to get a move from Liverpool to a club with greater chances of silverware of the European variety. He alleged broken promises, the overbearing media presence and the lack of Champions League football for craving a move out of Liverpool. Arsenal beckoned, while overtures from Madrid did not materialise into anything substantial.
However, Suarez did not submit a transfer request. Maybe that was what clinched the deal for Liverpool supporters, who pleaded to the Uruguayan to stay back. A friendly before the season started, played in Melbourne, Australia, was an astonishing example of the love Liverpool fans bestowed on Suarez, as a cameo appearance by the sulking striker was roared on in a manner Anfield would have been proud of. A true show of Red strength if there ever was one, and as former manager Bill Shankly put it, even Chairman Mao would have been proud of it.
For all his deficiencies, his sometime-incredulous on-field behaviour, the club refused to sell the player. Few could have denied that Suarez was the best player in the Premier League by some distance, and Liverpool were willing to put up with his charming ways if he continued to give his all for the Red’s cause.
Why does Suarez score over Torres for Liverpool fans, despite all his shenanigans? Torres was low-maintenance and of world-class stature. Suarez, however, does not go through patches of mediocrity like the Spaniard did in the last stages of his Liverpool career. His footballing ability is more reliant on skill rather than physique. Torres made defenders like Vidic and Terry look like children with his turn of pace, frightening acceleration and general quickness of play. He made things happen faster than people would have believed it could be possible. Defending against Torres was a race against time, and there was little to be done when he was past you.
The same virtues which made Torres such an outstanding and feared poacher have been his bane. Injury, and time, have caught up with him. The legs don’t pump as hard as they did before. The knees and hamstring are not as strong as earlier, meaning that the mind and body work on different wavelengths.
Suarez’s strengths lie in his touch and imagination. Several commentators have called him a magician, but to say that would be falsity. Suarez is no magician. Magician’s make things happen which mortals like yours truly could never do themselves. Suarez, however, does things which we could not even imagine were possible. While Torres slowed time to baffle his opponents, Suarez likes to work in confined spaces, doing a Houdini every now and then, stealing himself out of tight situations with his astonishing control over the ball and glorious imagination. Had Christopher Nolan required another architect in Inception for creating Leonardo DiCaprio’s mazes, Suarez would have been perfect. He brought on the Anfield green from the past which Torres could not: the artistry of Dalglish and the tenacity of Keegan.
Such is Luis Suarez’s ability with the ball that he has displaced Steven Gerrard as the first option from free-kick duties.
Probably the most important difference between Suarez and Torres is that while the latter dreams of winning trophies, Suarez wants to win each and every game. Of course, there is a desire to win titles too, but the immediate task at hand does not become hazy at any point, and this particular feature of Suarez has been more apparent than ever this season.
Having spent the first few games in the Director’s box serving his ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez has burst on to the pitch, wreaking such havoc, such impressive ability that the contribution of Daniel Sturridge has been temporarily forgotten. Read any report of the game against West Bromwich Albion from Saturday, and Sturridge’s magnificent chip would quite definitely be relegated to the last couple of paragraphs.
After all, Suarez had scored his first home hat-trick, and the standing ovation he received on being substituted in the final moments of the game were evidence enough of his importance to the club. The tribulations of summer have been long forgotten. Apologies may or may not have been made, but Suarez has a job to do. A job which he loves performing, judging by the humongous smile he sported after placing Steven Gerrard’s inch-perfect cross into the back of the net to complete his treble.
Time under Suarez has seen the extraordinary become routine at Liverpool. Humiliating nutmegs are expected, and the rabona has been pulled out more frequently by Suarez from his burgeoning repertoire of scarcely believable skills. Little feints, thundering free-kicks, audacious passes from the outside of his boot are all on show when Suarez is on. And the Suarez show will always be on. Time and injuries may end his career, but they will not compromise his ingenuity and wit.
Unlike Torres, Suarez does not play the game on the grass, but in his mind. Torres is in the mould of Michael Schumacher, while Suarez prefers to work on the canvas like Dali. Though Liverpool would love to better understand the intricate patterns of his Freudian brain, the club can rest assured that his ability will not dull during the season.