“Kompany, COUTINHO! Liverpool lead again!” Martin Tyler enthused on the 13th April 2014. This was probably the moment when almost every Liverpool supporter believed they’d finally cracked the title hoodoo. The entire gruelling season came down to this game and the rest should be a formality. It hurts to write it, really it does. Of all the Liverpool sides I’ve watched finish second in the league, this was my favourite. A tri-tactical, fast paced, pressing machine that could steamroll most Premier League teams into submission before the 30 minute mark. At the sharp end of this team was a very divisive Uruguayan named Luis Suarez – the most talented player to ever wear the Red shirt in my lifetime.
It all ended in tears at Crystal Palace a few weeks later but what came before was a tornado of joy and despair that nobody in the Premier League will ever forget, as one commentator put it, “we will talk about him for decades and decades”.
Suarez started his Liverpool career as he meant to go on – by scoring. Coming on as a second half substitute with Stoke City being put to the sword at Anfield. Suarez broke the offside trap and scored one of the ugliest goals ever seen in world football. In fact, the ball went in after an attempted clearance went wrong with the ball trickling towards the net. The ball couldn’t be stopped and the Uruguayan had the proverbial ball rolling. After signing at the end of January from Dutch giants Ajax, Suarez went on to score four goals in 13 appearances for the Reds. Whilst his partnership with Dirk Kuyt was a source of great happiness for the Anfield crowd, the best thing Suarez did was reignite the hope in the Reds’ fanbase – 2011/12 had potential.
Liverpool kicked off 2011/2012 with a home game against Sunderland, Suarez scored but couldn’t help the Reds to victory as the game ended 1-1. This result was to prove an example for the whole season as Liverpool endured their most disappointing Premier League campaign in the face of some truly awful chance conversion statistics – and an awfully bloody racial storm. Luis Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra during an October match up with fierce rivals Manchester United – the eight game ban derailed any hopes Liverpool had for a good season in the Premier League and the incident clearly affected Suarez.
But, for all their struggles in the league, and off the field, Liverpool were an effective cup team and seemed capable of motivating themselves when in the hunt for cup silverware. A Suarez led Liverpool won their first trophy for six years when they beat Cardiff City on penalties in the League Cup Final – the Uruguayan himself striking the post moments before Martin Skrtel powered in the equaliser. Another two trips to Wembley were booked when Luis Suarez and Liverpool went to the FA Cup Final – with Suarez scoring the equaliser against Everton in the semi final. The run ultimately ended in defeat and Dalglish paid with his job with Liverpool’s January 2011 recruits showing few signs of continued goal threat – Andy Carroll was cast away in the summer whilst Suarez ended 11/12 with 17 goals in 39 goals in all competitions. Could Suarez concentrate his clear talent and become a success?
Will the real Luis Suarez please stand up?
2012/13 wasn’t a vintage Liverpool year – the Reds finished seventh – but the season is remembered fondly for the emergence of Luis Suarez as a team player and a goalscoring phenom. Suarez combined his all action combustible style with team work and concentration and quickly became the most potent goalscoring threat in the league. His record of 23 league goals in 33 appearances was beaten only by Robin van Persie and his goalscoring feats in 12/13 laid the groundwork for a barnstorming 2013/14.
My favourite game from this season is actually a two legged Europa League defeat to Zenit St. Petersburg. Liverpool found themselves 3-0 down to a decent Zenit side which included the power of Hulk. 3-0 down to powerful Champions League level opposition, Suarez found the challenge inspiring and scored two free kicks at Anfield either side of a Joe Allen tap in to give the Reds a chance at reliving Istanbul and pulling a result out of absolutely nowhere. In the end it wasn’t to be but his celebrations after his second free kick were probably the best and most inspiring I had seen in a long time. Suarez seemed in tune with Anfield that night and, despite the result, I still enjoyed that night because of him and his performance.
The rest of 12/13 was spent watching Luis Suarez score spectacular goals in his battle with RvP for the Golden Boot, with Liverpool unable to climb but unable to drop any lower, so when the explosive Uruguayan bit Branislav Ivanovic – costing him valuable game time in the hunt for the Golden Boot – everyone was disappointed. His actions were inexcusable and once again the heralded striker cast a shadow upon himself through an unknown impulse. The ban ended his season and cost him six games at the start of the next – disaster.
82 Points, 1 Win From the Title
Now we’ve come full circle and we’re back to the fantastically painful 13/14. After a summer of agitating for a move away from his Anfield home, Suarez found himself back in the Reds team after missing the first six games of the season – Sunderland were his first victims as he scored two on his return in a 3-1 win.
This was the start of a superb year for Suarez as he remained trouble free, repaired many of his relationships with the British media, the fanbase and became the best player in the league. His goals to game record for 13/14 was astonishing and in tandem with Daniel Sturridge, he fired Liverpool towards the summit of English football once more. The cruel twist at the end of the season cannot take away from the sheer brilliance of the man and the struggles of the current Liverpool side are testament to how good he really was. He made everyone around him better, made them run faster, harder and made them demand more of themselves. Manager Brendan Rodgers was certainly a huge figure during this season but the inspiration of Suarez up top meant the Liverpool players believed something could happen and this taught them to never give up – a priceless advantage.
The awards, finally, poured in and Suarez was voted the Liverpool Player of the Year, as well the PFA Player of the Year (the first non-European winner) and the FAW Player of the Year. After scoring 31 goals in 33 league games it can hardly be argued that anybody deserved it more. Alongside these shiny domestic achievements, Suarez was also named the joint winner of the Golden Shoe – the top scorer from Europe’s top five leagues. If anything, this award confirmed that Suarez was the best of the rest after Cristiano Ronaldo, also the joint winner, and Lionel Messi.
Time to say goodbye
Alas, Suarez’s time with Liverpool ended with just the one trophy after Liverpool’s failure to beat Manchester City to the title but his time at Anfield was certainly memorable. His special goals, his worldie attempts, the comebacks, the title run in, the end of the trophy drought, having the best player in the league at Liverpool – these were exciting times. I’m sure we’ll never see a talent like Suarez at Liverpool again – although we all said the same when Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres left for pastures new, but Suarez feels different. This guy was a one man band and could drag a team to new heights on his own.
Suarez is my favourite non-Gerrard Liverpool player, just beating beardy Alonso to that prestigious space in my heart. I really miss him and football isn’t quite the same for me anymore. My final summing up of Suarez hopefully feels the same for everyone, so here goes.
The ups were brilliant and the downs were awful but the constant was his bucktoothed, childish smile that made us all feel young and free, and most of all, it made us love football.