It surprised me that Luis Suarez didn’t mark his return to playing for Liverpool against Manchester United after a 157 day absence with a match winning performance. It’s so often the way with comebacks from self-inflicted adversity.
The returning ‘bad boy’ is welcomed gratefully back into the fold straight into the spotlight, and quickly reminds everyone of how much they’ve been missed with a flash of genius.
Most memorably Eric Cantona at Manchester United, whose eight month ban for a king-fu kick on a supporter ended, inevitably, with a big match against Liverpool. He imperiously slotted away the penalty that denied Liverpool victory, hoovering up all the attention.
You could picture Suarez doing the same. He wasn’t at his best throughout the League Cup match at Old Trafford that Liverpool lost 1-0, but his threat was always there. The vital moment came in the 71st minute with a free-kick 25 yards out. I sensed he’d score, but he rattled the crossbar.
On such moments do seasons, careers and public perceptions revolve but the absence of a dramatic triumph for Suarez will perhaps be for the best in the long term.
Because if he had scored the inevitable redemption headlines would have followed,
From ‘Suarez saves Liverpool’ to ‘Luis gets his teeth into United’ the main theme would be how Suarez had ‘repaid a debut to fans’ ‘and started to make it up to the club’.
And that would have been a further embarrassment on proud Liverpool Football Club, if people around the club were actually aware of the shame.
Suarez is no hero. And his rehabilitation needs to come through behaviour not goals.
I’ve surprised myself with how strong my feeling on the Uruguayan’s bite on Branislav Ivanovic has been. I felt his unprovoked attack and the damage he did to his employers was appalling and am unsure it is forgivable. I didn’t trust – still don’t – his supposed appreciation of the club. I think his eye remains on a move, his agent will certainly not have ‘case closed’ this.
And worst of all I think the fans, including thousands of decent, loyal, intelligent fans, have misjudged the situation. Yes they want Liverpool to win, yes Suarez is an amazing footballer, yes they need him, yes he works ridiculously hard for the ball, yes it’s not the Liverpool way to turn one’s back…but…but…there has to be a line somewhere. For me he crossed it.
Remember when Carlos Tevez returned for Manchester City from his five month exile in Argentina and quickly scored a brilliant hat-trick at Norwich. The City fans loved it, they loved him…and they even loved his ‘ironic’ golf swing celebration. Could anything encapsulate the humiliation football fans suffer at the hands of these arrogant stars more than this. He had ensured they missed the Champions League knockout stages by refusing to come off the bench and then they’d had to cope for five months without his undoubted skills.
And the man he’d fallen out with, the equally temperamental Roberto Mancini, also adored by City fans, was he not equally humiliated? Work that one out. The best I can do – if your team wins, everyone’s a hero. Forgive everything.
So what can Suarez actually do other than come back and perform like the world class player he is? And what can the fans actually do other than get behind him?
Well this is what I’d like to see happen.
Suarez creating and scoring goals for Liverpool, but cutting down on the nonsense. He won’t be able to totally eliminate the dirty tricks and the niggling, it’s part of who he is. But he could tone it down.
I’d like his Liverpool team mates to help him. Last season he looked like a one-man team. This time round he needs more help. How they take some pressure off his shoulders could be a big part of his rehabilitation. It would stop him having to charge around hyperventilating for a start.
I’d like the manager Brendan Rogers to be on the top of his game when talking about Suarez. His attempts to answer questions on the subject over the summer weren’t convincing. When he tried to get tough over Suarez he looked toothless, when he tried to defend him it lacked authenticity. Like the player himself, Rodgers needs to ‘chill’.
And apart from the ill-judged ‘champing at the bit line’ Rodgers has recently seemed to be a bit sharper over the potential to be taken for a ride by the Uruguayan. A bit more measured. Remember Suarez inadvertently helped ‘do for’ Dalglish by starting a problem – a racism charge – that was mishandled by the manager.
I’d like to see the Liverpool Board reveal they had a proper strategy in keeping Suarez, or indeed selling him. I expected him to be sold away from the Premier League for over £50 million during the transfer window but it didn’t happen. Why? Is Suarez really convinced Liverpool is the place for him? Is he really grateful? I doubt it. John Henry must ensure he does not let Suarez and his ‘people’ get the better of him.
Most of all I’d like to see Suarez show genuine gratitude for the support of the majority of Liverpool fans. By staying out of bother.
The most likely scenario is that he will go in this transfer window or the next, score a bucketload of goals for his new club, then end up in trouble further down the line.
He blew it at Ajax. He blew it at Liverpool. But he has a second chance at Anfield. Luis Suarez, prove me and the sceptics wrong.
Actions speak louder than words, and it really isn’t goals that will repay the debt to Liverpool FC and its fans.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport