"El Pistolero": Luis Suárez's Ascent To Fame At Liverpool
January 31, 2011, it’s Deadline Day of the latest winter transfer window in Europe, and rumours of a possible Fernando Torres sale swirl about Merseyside. The club, sitting in lowly 12th place in the Premier League table, was struggling to cope with life post-Rafa Benitez; straying further away from England’s upper-class. In search of answers, Liverpool found one in the name of Luis Suárez who was prepared to rescue the Reds from disaster.
Liverpool were in an era of transition. In 2010, American businessmen George Gillet and Tom Hicks — handcuffed by financial troubles involving bankruptcy — forcefully sold the club to John Henry who headed the purchasing company New England Sports Ventures (now Fenway Sports Group).
The Spanish tactician Rafa Benitez and Liverpool, who together famously led a roaring comeback over Italian giants AC Milan in Istanbul to lift the UEFA Champions League crown in 2005, had just parted ways after six seasons. To fill his role, ex-Fulham boss Roy Hodgson took the post, hoping to redirect the Reds up the proper path towards English football’s high society.
In the front office, Damien Comolli, who had achieved success in London with Tottenham, was appointed to the sporting director role at Liverpool hoping to develop a club structure built off fresh youthful faces. Henry and his coalition were in a bind, desperate to make a good first impression at the Kop. Sitting twelfth in early-January, Hodgson was shown the door with supporters’ request of Kenny Dalglish honoured.
The new ownership group led by Henry and chairman Tom Werner wished to bring something new, something fresh to Anfield; a clean slate. Star striker Fernando Torres, who found it difficult to fully reclaim his once world-class form after a series of hamstring injuries and surgery, was rumoured to be heading to the exit door. Torres, still only 27 or so, was the club’s most sought after asset and could ultimately fetch the biggest return on the market.
It was clear that the World Cup 2010 winning forward had lost a step and was no longer as explosive; Liverpool understood that. A facelift, a transformation was necessary. With Chelsea heavily interested in shoring up their forward ranks, Liverpool and the Blues came to an agreement. Torres became British football’s world record transfer at £50m and the pressure was on to live up to the tag. As for Liverpool, there was no way they could sell their superstar and not have a replacement lined up. Fenway Sports Group needed to make a splash, and they did.
In the final hours of the 2011 January transfer window, Liverpool acquired their man.
Luis Suárez completed his then-club record transfer (£22.8m) to Liverpool from Dutch powerhouse Ajax, putting pen to paper on a five-and-a-half year to keep him at Anfield until 2016. Suárez, 24, perfectly fit the youth model Liverpool had wish to implement.
During his three plus years in Amsterdam, Suárez conquered the Eredivisie, amassing a remarkable 111 goals and sixty-eight assists in 158 appearances (via transfermarkt). A gifted technical forward who could play anywhere in the attack, “El Pistolero” possessed every quality Dalglish fancied in a striker. The tenacity going forward. Blistering runs aimed directly at defenders which were often capped with a trademark “nutmeg”. Evasive maneuvers with his mazy marauding runs capable of making him a world-beater down the road. Simply put, he had all of the qualifications necessary to supersede Torres in the attack.
Though he was observed as the ideal man to take the club forward, he was not the only striker they’d acquire on Deadline Day. Hours after Suárez’s deal became official, Liverpool had struck another with Newcastle United for their physically imposing young target man Andy Carroll, agreeing to a new Liverpool record transfer at £35m.
The two were on the better side of their 20’s and with Liverpool hankering for youth, they were ready to compete for top honours in England once again.
The Uruguayan striker made his Liverpool debut at Anfield, scoring in front of the home crowd on their way to a 2 nil victory over Stoke City. In a little under 30 minutes of action, Suárez looked tremendously dangerous and fit like a glove inside the eleven.
Dalglish started Suárez in nearly every match that half-season with the club, scoring four goals with five assists to aid Liverpool in their leap up the table to finish sixth.
Suárez’s transition over from Dutch football under Marco van Basten, Martin Jol and Frank de Boer to Liverpool was off to a roaring start. That summer, he’d carry over his club form to the Uruguayan national team at the Copa America where he carried his country to a title, also winning the honour of Player of the Tournament.
On the back of a stellar summer for the ex-Groningen forward, Liverpool carried high expectations for the 2011-12 campaign. With fresh faces Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, the belief was a special season could be assembled with an already solid crop of players. Yet, it was anything but roses for Dalglish, Suárez and Liverpool.
Suárez’s first full season in England was clouded with controversy. In October, Suárez was found to have committed a racist act towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra after both clubs played to a stalemate. The Football Association (FA), after two months, pinned Suárez with an eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine for his actions. Months later, he avoided shaking Evra’s hand during pre-match handshakes, tarnishing a Liverpool side with further agitation.
Eleven goals in 31 Premier League matches for Suárez wasn’t enough to salvage the season as the club finished eighth.
Dalglish’s Carling Cup Final victory over Cardiff City, and FA Cup Final appearance, were not enough to keep his job as he was sacked in May. In stepped Brendan Rodgers who left the post of Swansea City to bring stability to Liverpool and help Suárez erupt in his second full interval in Merseyside.
Fresh off a new contract, Suárez jumped out of the gates with vengeance. In the second round, the Uruguayan star converted from a free-kick against Manchester City in a 2-2 draw. Weeks later, he would begin his domination of Norwich City by notching a hat-trick in a commanding 5-2 trouncing of the Canaries.
The 2012-13 season was certainly his best in Red to date, scoring at will (30 goals across all competitions) and earning various individual achievements including one of three in club history to notch 20+ goals in a season joining Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres. He also finished runner-up to Tottenham’s Welshman Gareth Bale for PFA Players’ Player of the Year and was included in Team of the Year for his efforts.
Though it seemed to be the perfect season for Suárez in a seventh place finish, a biting incident involving Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic was a scuff on his otherwise stellar campaign. Suárez received a whopping ten-game ban from the FA for his conduct and his future at the club hung in the balance.
It wasn’t his first episode involving biting. In 2010, Suárez bit PSV’s Otman Bakkal and was slapped with a two-match suspension (later increased to seven by KNVB) and was branded the “Cannibal of Ajax” by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
Despite all of his on-field antics, Suárez was becoming a top player, and one which demanded to play on the biggest stage in European football, the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool finished seventh in 2012-13, and Suárez seemed to be one foot out the door in search of Europe.
Under the contract signed the previous summer, Suárez explained to the Guardian that Liverpool had agreed to let him leave should the club fail to qualify for the Champions League. To any champion aspiring for greatness, the Champions League was the main-stage of club football and at 26, Suárez felt his window was closing.
The last thing Liverpool wanted was to sell their star forward to a league rival, especially Arsenal who had been longing for an elite number nine to front the attack under Arsene Wenger. The Gunners supposed£40,000,001 bid seemed to reveal that Suárez’s release clause was set at £40m, but the Liverpool hierarchy later indicated that it was the figure for which negotiations would open up. After some back and forth discussions, and the public denial that any star players will be sold by Henry, Suárez was convinced to remain at Anfield, at least for another season. And what a season it was.
The 2013-14 season saw a Liverpool side blended with seasoned veterans and budding young superstars. The old guard was lead by the captain Steven Gerrard, while Suárez topped the youthful lot including, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.
It was now or never for Liverpool to make some noise in England once again, and the Reds were up to the task.
Still serving the remaining portion of his suspension, Suárez spent the first five rounds of the 2013-14 season as a spectator; Liverpool collected 10 points from those fifteen, weathering the storm before Luis’ domination commenced.
On Matchday 6, Suárez bagged a brace in the club’s 3-1 win over the Black Cats of Sunderland. Through the end of December, there was no striker on better from than the 26 year old; 19 goals and 10 assists in fourteen matches.
Rodgers and the Reds were flying high. Suárez was far and away Liverpool’s most impactful player and Sturridge was enjoying a breakout season of his own (22 goals, 9 assists in 2013-14). “SAS” formed the best strike tandem in England, Coutinho and Sterling were emerging young stars; Gerrard was the lynchpin. This was Liverpool’s year to claim their first Premier League title since the 89-90 season.
Suárez found the back of the net in a 4-0 battering of Tottenham at Anfield in March, snapping Fowler’s club record of 28 goals in a season and put them top of the table with half a dozen matches remaining.
Suárez had given everything he possibly could to bring Liverpool a league title that season. Hat-tricks. Goals from midfield. Nutmegs. You name it, ‘El Pistolero’ did it. Unfortunately for the Kop, it wasn’t enough as Liverpool stumbled towards the finish line.
Prior to Round 36 against Chelsea, Liverpool were on some run having gone unbeaten in 16 Premier League matches, victorious in eleven straight during that span. The fixture v the Blues was ever important towards Liverpool’s bid for a league title, but Gerrard disastrously slipped up in the 2-0 loss.
Manchester City went on to lift the trophy that season and Luis Suárez cleaned up in the award department; PFA Player of the Year (his second consecutive honour), the Premier League Golden Boot (31 goals), and Barclay’s Premier League Player of the Season. His 30 plus goal tally also put him amongst Premier League royalty as one of seven players to ever reach the output, joining the likes of Robin Van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.
Weeks after carrying Liverpool to a second-place finish good for Champions League qualification, Luis Suárez once again made headlines across the football spectrum for all the wrong — yet familiar — reasons.
In a crucial “win or go home” group stage match v Italy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Suárez lunged toward Giorgio Chiellini appearing to chomp at his shoulder. The referee did not book the Uruguayan for the offence and La Celeste found the decisive goal from Diego Godin moments after the incident occurred. Days later, the 27-year old was handed an international match ban of nine games — effective immediately — which proved fatal to his nation as they bowed out in defeat to Colombia 2-0 in the Round of 16.
With yet another biting episode to his name, it seemed as if Liverpool were left with no choice but to cash in on the star striker before he caused anymore harm to the club.
In the aftermath of the events at the World Cup in Brazil, Suárez made his rounds, issuing apologies to all including Chiellini who forgave the striker and hoped FIFA would reduce his sentence. The organization rejected the appeal submitted by the Uruguayan Football Association before Suárez ultimately sealed his move away from Liverpool to Barcelona.
It was announced on July 11, 2014 that Liverpool had agreed to sell Suárez to the Catalan club for a monstrous £75m, joining an already star-studded cast of world-class attackers including Lionel Messi and Neymar.
After “crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s,” Suárez issued a statement to the supporters saying “both me and my family have fallen in love with this club and with the city but most of all I have fallen in love with the incredible fans…as a family we will always be Liverpool supporters.“
The new number nine of the Blaugrana continued on down the line, thanking the gaffer Rodgers and praising the direction the club was headed.
Suárez nearly walked out on a Liverpool club who wanted nothing more than to give him the European dream he so desperately craved. The urge for pastures new in Spain proved too tempting for him and his family who had ties to the region thus forcing his move.
Luis Suárez’s time at Liverpool had its share of dark moments. Yet, most would concede that his performances inside the lines and under the lights of Anfield, were extraordinary. In his stay along the North West side of England, Suárez was immaculate when the spotlight was on. He provided endless amounts of excitement, energy and entertainment. His 82 goals and 53 assists while featuring in 133 matches for the Reds easily puts him amongst the club’s majestic.
Though he has moved on to dominating in La Liga with Barcelona, his heart will forever remain in Liverpool. “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The feelings are mutual.