Suarez: from pariah to hero

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A pariah in August, depicted as an ungrateful mercenary, now Luis Suarez is hailed as the reason behind Liverpools resurgence. Picture: Phil Noble

He was a pariah in August, depicted as an ungrateful mercenary. His stock had plummeted amid accusations of broken promises and retorts of disrespect.

Now he is a hero rewarded with a new contract and regarded as the reason Liverpool could achieve something significant this season.

Lavish praise abounds for the man who was central to one of the summer’s longest sagas.

It has been an extraordinary four months for Luis Suarez and the buoyant atmosphere around Liverpool’s Melwood training base yesterday confirmed a line has been drawn under the saga of him trying to force a move to Arsenal.

This has potentially been a watershed week for Suarez. While his serious transgressions with Patrice Evra (racially abusive language in October 2011) and Branislav Ivanovic (biting, April 2013) will never be forgotten, it feels as if he is being viewed in a different light.

Happy, smiling and in the thick of the action, he cuts a different figure to the one who, 19 weeks ago, was banished to train on his own with fitness coaches as punishment for giving an outspoken interview to two broadsheet newspapers.

His attitude was poor back then, irritating some of his team-mates.

When realisation dawned that he wouldn’t be leaving, there was a dramatic change.

‘A lot of players who have been in his position might have come back and spat the dummy out,’ Steven Gerrard said. ‘But he is not that type of guy. He realised that the club wanted to keep him and he has respected their decision. He wants to stay and achieve something this season.’

Suarez is back to being the model professional, who is never in the fitness room. If proof was needed of his commitment, the shining example came when he bounded into Melwood the morning after a 17-hour flight from Uruguay to help prepare for the Merseyside derby.

He is intrinsic to this upwardly-mobile group.

‘He is maturing,’ offered manager Brendan Rodgers. ‘He is accepting the role as one of the senior players.

‘He is a pillar of the group. He has taken on the mantle to help and support as well as having the X factor. He is in a good place.’

As well he might be. Having been given the honour of captaining Liverpool at Tottenham last Sunday, then named the Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Year on Monday, proof that Suarez has made amends for his petulance arrived on Tuesday with news of new contract talks.

Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, were desperate to keep Suarez at Anfield for the long haul — where else would they find someone with the capacity to score 17 goals in 12 games? — and were prepared to reward him suitably.

With Real Madrid as long-term suitors, it is easy to see why figures of £200,000 a week were on the table for his new salary.

Rodgers, when asked earlier in the week if he believed Suarez would sign a new deal, said: ‘I’ve every confidence that will be the case. He feels he’s progressed here as a player. If you feel you are improving and see the club progressing then you are happy.

‘When you have someone with that X factor, sometimes eight, nine or 10 players can’t replace that.

‘That was why we fought like tigers to keep Luis because he is a top player. He is a performer.

‘The 10-game ban (for biting Ivanovic) hit him really hard. Every manager would want him in his team. He is a humble man who has this unique desire to win games.

‘Judged on his football, he is up there with the world’s best and I don’t think he can be any happier.’

Yet, as he said that, it was impossible not to think back to three days at the start of August.

Suarez pleaded with Liverpool to let him join Arsenal, Rodgers spoke of feeling disappointed and John W Henry, FSG’s principal figure, spoke of a ‘jarring’ experience for fans.

Now Suarez is the spearhead of Liverpool’s rise to second place in the Barclays Premier League. At times, it has felt as if he is on a crusade to lead them into the Promised Land. He has been booked once in 12 games, compared to four at a comparable stage last year, and the tendency to go looking for penalties seems to have gone.

‘When you are choosing a captain, you analyse lots of things on and off the field,’ said Rodgers.

‘We all make mistakes and you would hate to think you would be punished for a lifetime for it. This is a guy who made a mistake but has shown he is a learner. He is a great player, a good man and, in Steven’s absence and with Daniel Agger out, I could not think of anyone better.’ – Daily Mail

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