As a Leeds United fan, it amazes me that a player of the sheer quality – and breathtaking ability to entertain – of Luis Suarez hasn’t been better appreciated in the country where he plies his trade. Last night at Anfield, he gave a performance in Liverpool’s 5-1 demolition of Norwich City to make any fan of the game thank their lucky stars that certain parties didn’t manage to drive the Uruguayan from these shores. It must have been a mighty close thing, such was the vitriol poured upon his head by various holier-than-thou types who would evidently be quite willing to see such virtuoso talent lost to English football. And this, mainly, because a silly molehill was made into a ridiculous mountain called Evragate.
The issues surrounding that shoddy affair have been gone into, not wisely but too well. A lot of ignorant and uninformed opinion conspired to have Suarez painted as an out-and-out villain and a racist to boot, whilst anointing Patrice Evra, Man U’s typically dislikable defender, as Saint Injured Party of Dakar. Neither conclusion stands up to intelligent analysis. The cultural mores of Uruguay make Suarez difficult to convict on the evidence of what happened in this case, while Evra’s tendency to make trouble and exploit situations will invariably speak for itself.
Less easy to dismiss was the bizarre incident when Suarez decided to take a chunk out of the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović. Any supporter of Suarez would have shaken his head despairingly at that one – it was inexcusable. But by this time, Suarez was cast ineradicably in the public eye as A Nasty Man – and sometimes that kind of thing can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, with the subject of all the negative attention liable to crack under the strain.
I have to confess that I would instinctively defend Suarez over Evragate, even if the deeper issues didn’t support the view that he’s not quite the despicable git he’s been painted. Evra is an unpleasant individual with a track record of winding up opponents in the approved Man U manner. As a Leeds fan, that is anathema to me. But the way in which Suarez was hung out to dry, vilified by people who evidently couldn’t have cared less about the positives the little South American brings to our game – to me, this was shocking and uncalled-for. I felt then and I still feel now that he should have been cut some slack and certainly not hounded as he was. Maybe then there’d have been no biting incident. Who knows? Luis Suarez is a volatile character. It’s part of his make-up, and he’s most definitely not alone in that. But so is sublime talent an integral part of the Suarez package, as he so extravagantly demonstrated last night.
Players score great goals sometimes, occasionally hat-tricks and sometimes even more. Our own Ross McCormack rattled up a four goal haul at Charlton recently and that was an outstanding performance. But it was as water unto wine when compared to the Suarez Masterclass which saw Norwich slaughtered by the world-class talent of a Latin magician.
You’d have to go a long way to see goals of greater quality than three of the four that Suarez scored last night. The fourth was merely very good, and Liverpool’s fifth was served up on a plate for young Raheem Sterling by … Luis Suarez. If ever a man took on and routed an opposing team of eleven helpless men, with only incidental help and support from the ten bit-part players on his own side, that man was Suarez. He was that good.
Looking at the four goals he scored, all showed exemplary technique, reflexes, balance, artistry, sheer star quality. Three were blinding efforts that would have graced any game of football ever played, any time, anywhere. The body shape of the man as he dispatched each chance with exactly the right contact to send the ball fizzing into the Norwich net told of a very special talent in the person of a natural athlete and superb technician. These were special goals in a fabulous performance; Suarez has been building up to this ever since the delayed start to his season, after suspension for the Ivanović incident and a summer of speculation as to whether he would be part of the English game this season. Even when it seemed that the danger of him being lost to our game was past, speculation was still rife about interest from Arsenal – and what an addition the Uruguayan would have made to that outstanding team.
What was made finally, undeniably clear at Anfield last night was that to even risk harrying Luis Suarez out of our game would have been the most arrant folly. Players like that come along once a generation; the Evras of this world are ten-a-penny stuff by comparison. The goals that Suarez scored against Norwich will be talked about, admired and replayed for years – decades. You don’t ever forget quality, genius like that. And that quality, that genius, could so easily have been lost to the game, just because an ignorant cabal of self-appointed judges got bees in their bonnets when they felt that precious Patrice Evra had been insulted. It was a disproportionate, foolish and unwarranted reaction and – in talent and entertainment terms – it could have cost us dear.
Look at those goals, and marvel. Watch them a few times over – you won’t regret it. Luis Suarez, Superstar. It’s about time we all focused on the immense positives he has brought to our game, and started to appreciate the worth of the man. He sparkles, he entertains – he even plays the game with a smile on his face – mostly. There’s plenty you can’t say that about. Thank heavens that Anfield’s magician was not lost to the game of football in England.