x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Luis Suarez gets his chance to take centre stage for Liverpool against Stoke City

Luis Suarez cost Liverpool big money – £22.8 million (Dh133m) to be exact – yet his arrival was overshadowed by that of Andy Carroll.

The combination of a record transfer fee, global fame (or, depending upon your perspective, infamy) and an enviable scoring record does not tend to be a recipe for obscurity. Yet while it would be an exaggeration to say Luis Suarez slipped into Anfield unnoticed, he was certainly obscured.

A centre-forward who has illegally doubled up as a goalkeeper in the last minute of a World Cup quarter-final and been sent off celebrating might assume he has a monopoly on drama.

On Monday night the Uruguayan was usurped by the exiting Fernando Torres, the costliest player ever signed by an English club, and Andy Carroll, who ensured Suarez's reign as Liverpool's most expensive arrival lasted a matter of hours.

Tonight, however, that all changes. With Carroll injured and Torres gone to Chelsea, the spotlight falls firmly on Suarez as Stoke City visit Anfield.

Liverpool's pursuit of a third successive win continues to a backdrop of rejection and recruitment, injured pride and investment. Part celebration, part wake, part football match, it should be a compelling occasion.

What it is not, however, is the evening Liverpool envisaged. Signed to partner Torres, Suarez's short-term deployment will be as his replacement until Carroll is fit to join him in the new-look attack.

His predecessor as the sole striker had a tattoo reading "You'll Never Walk Alone", though the Liverpool attack often looked a lonely place.

Torres is a reminder that footballers' words about loyalty and history perhaps ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, but Suarez has made the right noises.

"I am very happy to be here. For me this is the most important club not just in England but the whole world. I watched Liverpool and English football as a boy," he said. "It's a dream to be able to come and play here. I had a wonderful time in Ajax and I will miss them but you have to keep moving forward to get better."

The newcomer is spearhead tonight, but his future role should be as the sidekick. Yet while Carroll cost £35 million (Dh207m), Suarez is the proven world-class striker.

"I think he is a top player," Kenny Dalglish, the manager, said. "He is a fantastic goalscorer. He's a good leader and he was captain of Ajax, which is unusual for a forward to be captain. That tells us something really positive about the lad."

That the £22.8m man has a record approaching two goals every three games is promising, too: scoring 49 times last season had echoes of Ian Rush's equally prolific campaign of 1983/84.

But the numbers, on his back and on the cheque dispatched to Amsterdam, confer pressure. He debuts in the No 7 shirt that acquired special status at Anfield when worn by Kevin Keegan and Dalglish.

Recent recipients have been less distinguished; neither Robbie Keane nor Harry Kewell merited comparisons with his illustrious forebears. Vladimir Smicer had switched to the less illustrious No 11 by the time he scored in the 2005 Champions League final.

The test is both mental and tactical. Dalglish said: "We'll try to get him playing the way he played at Ajax."

Yet, prolific as Suarez proved in Holland, his usual brief was to support the main striker (generally from the flanks) rather than leading the line himself. As he showed in the World Cup, when Diego Forlan adopted a deeper position behind Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the front-runner's duties are neither alien nor impossible.

But his is a heavy responsibility nonetheless. The comparisons with Torres are inevitable and, with the Spaniard likely to debut for Chelsea against his former employers on Sunday, they will only increase.

sports@thenational.ae