Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Suárez Redemption

Liverpool's star striker Luis Suárez is absolutely on fire this season - he has a staggering nineteen goals to his name in the Premier League already this season, and regular viewers of Match Of The Day will know that the manner in which he's scored some of these goals has been truly spectacular.  But that isn't the most impressive thing about Suárez this year...

In previous seasons, I think it's fair to say that Suárez wasn't the most popular character in English football.  No one could deny his talent on the field, and his goal-scoring pedigree was plain for all to see, but his attitude and his demeanour came in for a lot of criticism - and rightly so!

Suárez' actions gained him a reputation for diving and cheating (most notably biting and stamping on other players), and he was perhaps most (in)famously involved in a racism scandal with Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

Over the summer, there were persistent rumours that Suárez would be sold, and that he wanted to leave Liverpool in search of a club where he could win trophies, and qualify for European football.

In the end, though, Suárez stayed at Liverpool, and began the 2013/14 season with the remnants of a ten-match ban for the biting incident still hanging over him.  Since he's been back in action, though, the transformation which I, for once, have seen in him has been remarkable.

The Suárez I have watched on Match Of The Day in recent weeks has the same wonderful skill and mercurial touch as ever - but he seems to have a vastly improved attitude, and a new maturity which is just fantastic to see.  Suárez has scored some amazing goals, but he has also been working hard for his team, he has been very unselfish at times, and he's been making every effort to stay on his feet at times when, in the past, he might have gone down under soft challenges.

Following a recent injury to longtime Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard, Suárez was asked to Captain his side - many people questioned the judgement of manager Brendan Rodgers in giving the Captaincy to a player with such a chequered past, but having seen Suárez in action on the pitch as Liverpool's Captain I think Rodgers made the right call.  As Captain, Suárez has been authoritative, leading from the front with his performances and his work ethic - but he's also been keen to support and encourage his teammates, especially those who are younger and less experienced, and who are just coming through into the first team.

Thanks in no small part to the influence of Suárez, Liverpool currently sit top of the Premier League. Whilst it's not out-of-the-question that they could win the League this year, I personally think that's unlikely - but a Top Four spot is not, and should Liverpool qualify for the next year's Champions League (as well they might!), they will have Suárez to thank.

If there's one thing we can guarantee in the world of football it's highly entrenched opinions, and there will undoubtedly be people who made up their mind about Suárez during his troubled times and will refuse to change it now - but I think that is unfair on a player who is certainly well on the way to proving many of his critics wrong this year.

Suárez is still the same man accused of racial abuse.  He is the same man who bit another player on the arm during a game.  But he has served his punishment for those (and other) transgressions - and if, as it seems, he has returned to the game as a reformed individual, that is to his credit.

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