Luis Suarez is available for Liverpool again after his 10-match ban, just in time for a trip to face Manchester United. His comeback draws comparison to that of another controversial No 7 – Eric Cantona.
Not unreasonable to expect a ‘hungrier’ Luis Suarez
Some people are unable to lead the quiet life. It is more than five months since Luis Suarez last kicked a ball in competitive football for Liverpool, yet in some respects, it is as though he has never been away. As he did when he was scoring every week, Suarez has dominated the dialogue in a summer of speculation.
Now, finally, the Uruguayan is available again. Typically, he is plunged into the most intimidating of atmospheres. There is no player who polarises opinion in football quite like Suarez. There is no place where he is quite as unpopular as Old Trafford.
And so, as he returns from a 10-match suspension just in time for a Capital One Cup game at Manchester United on Wednesday, his comeback occurs at a place where another of his lengthy bans is unlikely to ever be forgotten.
As Suarez’s most recent punishment was for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, it was an unfortunate choice of words when manager Brendan Rodgers said he would be “even hungrier” now. His previous, similarly severe sanction, an eight-match spell on the sidelines, came when he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
And so, with Rodgers admitting that he cannot guarantee Suarez has learnt the lessons of his latest mistake, his return to active duty is framed by his past.
Perhaps it is ever thus with him; he can shake off defenders with high-speed runs and sharp turns, but escaping his history is altogether harder.
Some, at least, can forgive and forget. The Liverpool supporters, players and hierarchy have been remarkably magnanimous considering Suarez’s attempts to engineer his exit from Anfield.
Real Madrid never made the offer he appeared to expect. Arsenal’s bid of £40 million (Dh235m) plus £1 was rejected, Liverpool displayed their stubborn streak and Suarez stayed.
It has been said before, but it is time he repaid them for their loyalty.
While his return is timely, with the classy creator Philippe Coutinho now injured and Liverpool having lost to Southampton on Saturday, they could benefit from an injection of impetus. Suarez, who does everything at pace, is accustomed to changing the momentum of a game.
He may not be match fit, but he should be sharp. He has appeared for Uruguay and in behind-closed-doors friendlies for Liverpool.
He has trained in his normal, irrepressible manner – teammate Jose Enrique recently called him “annoying” for his determination to win in practice, and he meant it as a compliment – and there is the sense a footballer who rarely requires added motivation will be galvanised by a return to a high-pressure game.
“He is champing at the bit,” Rodgers said. “He just can’t wait to get playing again.”
Had Liverpool been drawn at home to lower-division opponents, perhaps Suarez could have been eased back into first-team football. Yet Suarez doesn’t ease his way into anything when the options are to sprint, surge or snarl. “He wants to win, working, fighting,” said defender Kolo Toure.
For the most part, Liverpool have won without him. Saturday’s defeat was their first in Suarez’s absence. Daniel Sturridge has contributed 11 goals in those 10 games, belying the theory they are a one-man team or over-reliant on Suarez.
Yet a refusal to countenance selling him said much about his importance to Liverpool’s self-esteem as well as their side.
His return brings comparisons with another controversial No 7 who wore red. Eric Cantona was restored to the United side against Liverpool in 1995, after an eight-month ban for kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan, and promptly scored.
It would not be surprising if Suarez emulated him. Not least because United’s manager, David Moyes, was vocal in his belief that the Uruguayan was a diver last season, and in the eye of another storm then, promptly scored against the Scot’s Everton.
Yet Suarez being Suarez, it is wrong to discount a repeat simply because his career indicates anything could happen.