Liverpool and new owner John Henry (or John W. Henry as they seem to prefer across the pond) finally got their man yesterday in agreeing to a transfer fee of up to £22.8 million with Dutch giants Ajax for Luis Suarez. (Note: that’s $36.2 million for you Yanks.)
The Eredivisie has long been a friendly environment and stepping stone for top young goal scorers and the 24-year-old Uruguayan international is the latest to emerge from the popular European pipeline. With over 100 goals in all competitions in just three-and-a-half seasons at Ajax, Suarez is a pure scorer whose game will sit well with both the old guard and the American fans that New England Sports Ventures – who also own the Boston Red Sox, in case you’ve been living under a rock – hopes to market the club to.
Coupling the news of Suarez’s signing are reports that golden boy Fernando Torres, he of the unforgettable Euro 2008-winning goal, subsequently turned in a transfer request that was turned down by the club. Major soccer outlets – I use this term because I don’t like to give “The Worldwide Follower” or Goal.com too much credit – have unanimously reported that Chelsea are in hot pursuit of Torres, offering anywhere between £35 to £40 million as well as a forward (Daniel Sturridge and Nicolas Anelka have been mentioned). Torres has a buy-out clause of £50 million that could be triggered in the summer, but would need Liverpool’s consent to leave for that amount any earlier than that.
So, with a little over two days remaining in the January transfer window, is Liverpool likely to swap star strikers for a hefty profit? Two words: fat chance.
In my mind, the arrival of Suarez is less an indication of an impending exit for “El Niño” as it is a pledge to the club’s supporters. NESV wants fans to know that this a different breed of American owner than they’d grown accustomed to during the nightmare George Gillett and Tom Hicks era. Few doubt that NESV are in the business of owning sports franchises for the money, but Henry & Co. are savvy enough to understand that public perception is an integral part of long-term success. For proof, look no further than the $141 million deal the Red Sox shelled out to OF Carl Crawford, not to mention the blockbuster trade for slugger Adrian Gonzalez, both of which occurred this offseason after Sox fans began tuning out thanks to a lackluster 2010 season. Or, even more applicable might be the Curt Schilling trade in 2003 that helped reverse the so-called curse and establish a winning tradition in Boston.
With a tumultuous previous few years that has seen Manchester City and Tottenham leapfrog the Reds in terms of desirability, Liverpool has an image problem that needs fixing if it plans to become a Champions League mainstay again. And really, would NESV have purchased the club if that weren’t its ultimate intention?
Of course, bank-breaking contracts help lure stars. But, what will make Liverpool a destination again for top players is knowing that they’ll be playing for a club with a chance to win every game and that the teammate next to them will be one of their peers, instead of one of the summer’s top free transfers (sorry, Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole). The Suarez purchase goes a long way toward rebuilding that reputation, while selling Torres would, in effect, nullify that. Of course, publishing this article while this situation is still fluid and up in the air could come back to bite me in the arse, but we’re a ballsy bunch of journalists over here at the NEST.
Moving on to the actual impact of Suarez’s arrival on the field: he should be the perfect tonic for an attack that’s long needed one more true scoring threat. After settling for bargains and Robbie Keane in the past, Suarez should fit perfectly in between Steven Gerrard and Torres, a classic No. 9 forward. What makes Suarez such a shrewd buy is that he’s proven he can fit into the mix with other great scorers in the past, pairing in support of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for a period at Ajax and more recently (and more prominently) with Diego Forlan during Uruguay’s fairy-tale run to the 2010 World Cup semifinals.
From what we’ve seen of Suarez in the past, it’s clear he’s got an innovative mind and a strong enough skill set to get on the same wavelength as Torres and develop a successful partnership, as long as the Spaniard’s head is in the right place. Not to keep coming back to Torres’ potential departure, but I think the idea is to give him the rest of the season to see that he won’t be the lone wolf up front any longer, and that should end up appeasing him in the end.
The peripheral effect of Suarez’s arrival is that he’s going to take pressure off of the players around him and make the squad fit together better. Dirk Kuyt has been a favorite of mine long before he won over the fans, but his game is more as an effort player than anything else. With the role he’s found out on the right wing, his influence is based upon his outstanding work rate and unselfishness with the ball. With Kuyt, the goals come as a result of his scrappiness and persistence and putting undue pressure on a player like that to score can only hurt his overall game.
Similarly, talismanic captain Steven Gerrard has fared better, in my opinion, when allowed to play in a more traditional central midfield role, unleashing shots from long-distance or venturing forward when he sees an opening rather than permanently being in an advanced position.
Now, with a dual goal-scoring threat to match the other Champions League hopefuls, Liverpool is finally back on the right track again. Sure, the Reds could still use a new left side and the back line is a bit messy to put it nicely. But, it seems that the arrival of manager Kenny Dalglish has helped lift spirits and confidence at Anfield, and throwing Suarez into the mix will only continue to supplement their recent scent of success.
Currently at seventh-place in the table with only 14 games remaining, the Champions League might still be a season away for the Reds’ ambitious new owners, but with a big money splash, they’ve done all they can to take a stab at it right now. I have no reservations in predicting that Liverpool will overtake sixth-place Sunderland and reclaim its rightful place in the new “Big Six” when all is said and done.
The arrival of Suarez underscores the necessity of wins over draws at this point, but the Uruguayan is the perfect man to help with that final push. Young legs are always a welcome addition at this point of the season and Suarez showed this summer that he’s a winner and not just another stat-hungry hound. In all, the Suarez signing can be considered nothing other than a coup, as it made a statement about NESV’s commitment to the club that words alone could not.