Love him or Loathe him, and there are very few who fall anywhere in between those two extremes, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is a player who polarises opinion more so than any other in recent times. Not since the days of Eric Cantona, has the Premier League enjoyed the services of a player so beguilingly brilliant, yet equally adept at the role of pantomime villain.
Suarez is probably the one player most fans are united in their loathing of. Certainly the Uruguayan hasn’t helped his cause by some of his actions. Two biting incidents (resulting in a combined 18 match ban, 8 for Ajax, 10 for Liverpool) plus his racially-motivated baiting of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra were shameful incidents for which he paid a right and heavy penalty.
Then there are the questions over whether he plays within the spirit of the game. Critics point out that Suarez seldom needs much encouragement to fall over when challenged, or his last-gasp handball save that denied Ghana a goal in the World Cup, which saw Suarez sent off before Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty. It wasn’t so much the handball that Suarez was castigated for, but for his wild celebrations afterwards.
Yet while Suarez actions were indefensible in the biting and Evra incidents, his actions in the other two are absolutely no different to any other player in the modern game.
Had Wayne Rooney palmed away a goalbound shot from Asamoah Gyan to save England from certain defeat in the World Cup Quarter Finals and then the Three Lions progressed to the semi-final on penalties, he’d be lauded as a hero, sacrificing himself for the good of the team. At worst, pundits would accuse him of doing the “professional” thing and the “right thing for his team in the circumstances”.
As for the diving accusation, Suarez is simply following what he has been told. He is by no means the only player in the Premier League who falls over with unerring regularity. You only have to take a look at some of the penalty decisions that referees’ have given, such as Ramires for Chelsea against West Brom, to see that falling in the box theatrically can and does pay.
Yet most of Suarez incidents in the penalty area this season have been for decisions not given for him. Against Manchester United recently, Liverpool were awarded three penalties, the third of which came from a blatant dive by Daniel Sturridge. Yet Suarez could and should have earned a penalty in the first half for a clumsy tackle in the box by Marouane Fellaini.
He also should have had at least one penalty against Chelsea when Samuel Eto’o, who was already booked and fortunate to still be on the field, clearly fouled him in the box, yet the referee did not give it.
Suarez is currently the 10th most fouled player in the Premier League, some way behind the leader Eden Hazard of Chelsea who has been fouled 85 times. Suarez has been fouled 49 times according to the stats, but any Liverpool fan will tell you, it could easily be double that had his reputation not gone before him.
For the most part, Suarez this season has been a changed man; he has seemingly found a way to channel his frustrations into his game and he has become a much better player for it.
So much so that if the football writers or the PFA, in their wisdom, award the Player of the Year award to any other player, then they are making a mockery of the trophy.
By any measure you want to use, Suarez has been head and shoulders and then some, better than any other player in the Premier League this season.
Goals? Suarez has 28 in the Premier League, that is nine more than second placed Daniel Sturridge. He’s netted 13 league goals more than Sergio Aguero and 14 more than Eden Hazard, the two players most likely to be his main contenders for the awards.
Does that take into account games played, well no it doesn’t. Aguero has only played 17 times for Manchester City, so his 15 goal strike rate (plus 5 assists) is hugely impressive. Hazard’s played 31 league games for Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and creating 7 goals for team mates.
Suarez stats though have them beat: He’s played 25 of Liverpool’s 29 league games, scoring 28 goals and creating 11 goals for team mates – the most in both categories in the Premier League.
Those are the kind of stats that only players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can compare to.
As for the bad boy reputation, Suarez has earned 4 yellow cards this season, no reds. In this category Hazard and Aguero do have him beat with Hazard picking up two and Aguero yet to be booked. Steven Gerrard has seven. Wayne Rooney eight.
But since when did Football Writers or fellow professionals consider yellow cards when picking their player of the year?
You can’t even argue that Suarez has had less of an impact on his team than the likes of Aguero or Hazard. Both have been superb for their respective teams this season but Suarez has been on a different planet to other players in the Liverpool team, and indeed the rest of the Premier League, at times this season.
It does make me laugh when I hear pundits extolling the virtues of Hazard or Aguero. They are majestic players, but in a par with Suarez this season? Really?
Here’s something to consider. In 2013/2014 at the time of writing, Suarez has a better Goals per Game ratio this season than Lionel Messi. Only just, but then again, unlike Messi at Barcelona, Suarez doesn’t take penalties for Liverpool. If he did, he’d have potentially ten more goals to add to his tally in the same number of games.
Name another player in Premier League history who has scored 28 goals in 25 games without taking penalties for his club?
Yet it’s incredible to think that Suarez effectively missed the first month of the season due to his suspension. Deserved, yes, but doesn’t that put his redemption into perspective?
Hopefully Suarez will receive his vindication, rather than vilification at the end of the season but given the closeted view of many football writers and his polarising personality amongst fellow professionals, I doubt that will be the case.
And it will be a shame as perhaps no player over the past ten years deserves it more.
But for the blinkered few, there will be few players over the last ten years who deserve it less.