Sore Lu-sers

Matt Handley says Suarez’s critics are just jealous

“Luis is a world class talent, he’s up there in that one per cent bracket. I wouldn’t swap him for any other.” For Liverpool fans still aggrieved with the sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea in 2011 (although his subsequent transformation from centre- forward to flaccid waif probably nullifies most of the pain), Brendan Rodgers’s defence of his star striker was reassuring. Luis Suarez has scored eight of Liverpool’s 14 goals this season, and, with minimal striking backup in the squad, the Uruguayan’s importance has never been greater.

Only Steven Gerrard’s name is more commonly requested for printing on replica shirts in the Liverpool squad. Yet the idolisation of Suarez by scousers is trumped by the scale of the vitriol he attracts from opposition managers, players and supporters. Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who constantly wears the expression of a man who’s just had his tea pissed in, singled out Suarez as symptomatic of the problem of diving in football, views echoed by Everton boss David Moyes. However, this is criticism that only spurs on Suarez; after Moyes’ comments, Suarez celebrated Liverpool’s opener in the Merseyside derby by running to the Scot and theatrically jumping to the floor, Klinsmann-style.

The nature of Suarez’s play as a drifting forward who works on the edge of the area and takes on players, means he naturally draws fouls from opponents, which obviously winds them up. Suarez knows this, and he loves it. He whispers in people’s ears, is confrontational, gives sly kicks and “has a face like a gurning chipmunk,” according to second-year historian Laurie Blackman. So dastardly tricky and so eminently punchable, Suarez is a defender’s nightmare.

It’s these latter traits that particularly rile fans. Being found by the FA to have racially abused the Patrice Evra, and his subsequent refusal to shake the Manchester United left-back’s hand did little to endear him to English fans at large, and Suarez is routinely booed at away games. Yet still his every touch is cheered by Liverpool fans.

And why? Because everyone loves having the villain on their side. A player who is the object of envy and contempt by rival fans and players, and who draws on that energy not only to boost his own game, but to piss off opponents to the point at which they want to kick lumps out of him is a rare commodity. Moreover, the ire he attracts only make the celebrations sweeter when he scores, which he has been doing a lot thus far this season. Rodgers is right when he speaks of Suarez’s irreplaceability.


PHOTO// wonker