Luis Suarez Departure Allows Liverpool to Strengthen More in the Long Term

Jonathan WilsonFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 12:  An employee hangs a Luis Suarez shirt next to a Leo Messi shirt after printing his name and number on it at the FC Barcelona official store on July 12, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s not easy, from a purely footballing point of view, to paint the departure of Luis Suarez from Liverpool as good news.

His importance to Liverpool last season, when he scored 31 Premier League goals, can hardly be overstated: Bloomberg Sports named him the most influential player in Europe last season. Yet it may be that selling him was exactly what Liverpool needed to do if it is to develop as a club.

It would have been hard enough to stomach losing a player of Suarez’s caliber anyway, but the Tottenham paradigm has understandably increased anxiety. The sale of Gareth Bale last summer presented the club with what appeared to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity—a huge cash injection that was the product not of external investment but was self-generated.

This, it seemed, was a chance to move from a reliance on one key player to building a squad—not just a team, but a squad that was genuinely capable of competing.

That money was, by and large, squandered: It wasn’t so much that they bought bad players, but that they mismanaged them once they had arrived. Erik Lamela, for example, a young talent worth nurturing, had been sceptical about the move, came with a calf strain and was alienated almost immediately. It may be that there was no grand plan about how the seven transfers would fit together—the use of Roberto Soldado, for instance, seemed baffling, playing him with two inverted wingers when he had thrived on crosses at Valencia—but whatever logic there had been was discarded as soon as Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed.

It turned out that Spurs’ opportunity hadn’t been once in a generation, and that Liverpool would be presented with a similar challenge a year later. Just because Tottenham blew their pot of cash, and their chance to establish themselves among the elite, doesn’t mean that Liverpool will.

It would have been a bold executive who actively sought to sell the Uruguayan and, in a sense, the way the deal was done was probably as painless as was possible, presented almost as a fait accompli as soon as his four-month ban was confirmed—even though the bite and its fallout almost certainly had nothing to do with the sale.

“Luis going doesn’t lessen our ambitions—we want to continually improve. He’s a wonderful player but we will move on,” said Liverpool’s manager Brendan Rodgers in a press-conference after his side's 2-1 friendly defeat to Brondby. “He has moved on and I will concentrate on the players we have and who have won many games without him playing.”

That, surely, is the right attitude to take. It wouldn’t be fair to say Liverpool were reliant on Suarez last season, but they could easily have become so. Once he returned from his ban last season, he played in every league game. Because they had no European commitments, Liverpool had no need to rest him. This season, rotation would have been essential, and that means investment in the squad if the general level is to be maintained.

Sang Tan/Associated Press


Besides which, Liverpool’s problem last season was at the back and, probably more specifically, in the support the midfield offered the defence—an issue that reared its head for England in the summer. The success of the Suarez-Daniel Sturridge partnership was a great boon for Liverpool, but it also restricted Rodgers tactically—for all that Suarez was willing and able to play on the flanks.

It seems significant that, Rickie Lambert aside, the bulk of the investment so far has been in midfielders—Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic. That suggests Rodgers, who has proved adept at tweaking his approach according to the opponent, is looking to revert to something closer to his approach at Swansea, with a lone striker and more bodies in midfield.

That may make Liverpool less thrilling to watch this season, but it should also allow them to control games rather more than they did last. And, even more importantly, the sort of investment the Suarez money permits is necessary to compete domestically and in Europe.

There may be a short-term fall-off, but in the long term that sort of expenditure was probably essential if Liverpool are to have a chance of establishing themselves as regular Champions League qualifiers and more.