It’s one of the saddest aspects of modern football that every player has their price. And as Jamie Carragher prepares to depart Liverpool Football Club, we should take a moment to reflect on the last of a dying breed. A one-club man—a player you can barely imagine threatening to leave for want of a better contract, or flirting with a rival team, as Steven Gerrard did many summers ago. Someone who would not only run through a brick wall for his team, but would then remonstrate with the wall for not standing firm, having smashed through it. A legend.
Luis Suarez is not one of these players. His commitment to the club is cursory—financial, certainly, perhaps reinforced in some part due to LFC’s unwavering support during the Evra affair, but make no mistake, if one of the biggest six or seven clubs in Europe offer him the chance to compete for major trophies this summer (and double his wages), he’ll be off quicker than you can say "nefarious intent."
And who could blame him?
Edison Cavani aside, the little Uruguayan stands alone as one of the few unquestionably world-class players currently gracing the game to ply his trade for a side not in the highest echelons of world football. Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta all have Champions League clashes to look forward to next week. Even Falcao at Atletico Madrid is competing for the top spots in La Liga. Luis, meanwhile, is preparing for a grueling trip to St Petersburg to take part in a competition that, even at Ajax, he would have been likely to turn his nose up at.
It’s the truth that no Liverpool fan wants to face up to—as things stand, Luis Suarez is too good for a Europa League, sixth or seventh (fingers crossed) placed club to hold on to.
In light of all this, you can begin to interpret Brendan Rodgers’ recent tactical changes as the start of life without Suarez. Positioned in a roaming role behind Daniel Sturridge in the last three games, a clear effort is being made to spread the player’s goal-scoring burden around the side, and it’s surely no coincidence that this is new signing Philipe Coutinho’s favourite position.
Encouragingly, the new system has worked well, with Sturridge in particular, impressing in a focal role. Having learnt lessons from the first half of the season, Rodgers’ new blueprint is clear—get the right mix of power, pace and skill, and possession statistics suddenly become an afterthought. One wonders whether even Andy Carroll may have had a role to play, given the manager’s new, more pragmatic approach—especially giving the changes in fortunes of Jordan Henderson and Luis Enrique, once heading the queue for an early exit.
With the team overwhelmingly reliant on Suarez this season, particularly in the early stages, it’s difficult to know how Liverpool would manage without him. But with Carroll, Carragher, Reina, Downing and maybe even Skrtel requiring replacement in the summer, the possible £40m-£50m recouped from the transfer would come in pretty useful. Spread around the team, that money could ensure Liverpool provide a more consistent—if less exciting—threat next season.
The question is, which area needs strengthening most?
A developing Suso should prove an able deputy for Coutinho as a creative hub, with Sterling, Borini and forgotten man Assaidi supplementing the attack. The midfield three of Henderson, Lucas and Gerrard picks itself, with Shelvey and Allen filling in the gaps. The defence has been a problem all season, though Rodgers’ at-times-naive approach is partly to blame; all signs point to this being Pepe Reina’s last in a red (or whatever colour the goalkeeper kit is) shirt.
If we can take any clues from recruitment policy so far, the reinforcements will most likely be young, relatively cheap and already highly familiar to the manager. Raids on former club Swansea for Ashley Williams and Michel Vorm would not surprise, nor a move to rescue Scott Sinclair from the Steve Sidwell Academy of Dumb Moves to Big Clubs.
What we can be sure of is that the likes of Suarez and Carragher are essentially irreplaceable, and it will require a huge amount of luck or money to find players of a similar calibre.
Whisper it quietly, but Rodgers’ second summer may prove even trickier than his first.