Damage limitation is a strategy with which Liverpool are becoming increasingly familiar in their dealings with Luis Suarez.
The striker’s recent comments that if another team “with more prospects of competing in international club competition games” approached him “they are very welcome”, will not only have put Europe’s top clubs on high alert, but will almost certainly lead Liverpool to question his commitment to the lucrative, long-term contract that he signed last summer.
Liverpool’s managing director Ian Ayre quickly threw a blanket over the flames, insisting that he is “100% confident” Suarez would remain at Liverpool next season. He also suggested that Suarez’s comments might have been “lost in translation”, an explanation that sounds rather unconvincing.
This isn’t, of course, the first time that Luis Suarez and the perceived nuances of the Spanish language have caused problems for Liverpool. A central issue in the race row saga with Patrice Evra was whether or not Suarez’s comments had the same meaning in Uruguay as they did in England. But this time, it will not take a 115-page document to make clear the prospect that Liverpool may be losing their grip on their leading man.
The problem for Liverpool is that Suarez’s scintillating form this season, coupled with the club’s slim chances of Champions League qualification, would be enough to have Manchester City, Juventus and Bayern Munich’s attention without the man himself giving them reason to prick up their ears. In stark contrast to his goalscoring, keeping his potentially disruptive thoughts to himself is not one of the Uruguayan’s strengths – it is worth remembering that he defied the club’s orders not to speak about the Evra incident following his FA conviction.
Despite his assurances to the contrary, it is easy to see why a move away from Merseyside might appeal to Suarez – he would, for one, be able to escape an English media he appears to believe willfully misinterpret him on a regular basis.
He may also view Champions League football, which Liverpool are unlikely to be able to provide next season, as a more appropriate platform for a player of his ability.
The reality is that Suarez’s new contract means that the chances of Liverpool selling in the summer are minimal at best. It would take an astronomical offer for the club to even consider letting go of such a clinical finisher – that or a sudden declaration by Suarez that he was intent on leaving, which might tempt the club to cash in.
In the long-term though, Ayre and club chairman John W. Henry will need to focus their attention on building a side around Suarez that will transform them into the “elite” European club that the Uruguayan somewhat hastily claimed they were when explaining himself.
If they cannot do that whilst keeping one eye on Suarez’s media schedule, he may not be around for much longer.