x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

No home comforts for Luis Suarez at Old Trafford

Hailed on return at Anfield after ban, Uruguayan can expect a torrid time against Manchester United.

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, left, was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in October last year.
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, left, was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in October last year.

Notoriety has its benefits. "I'm used to having fans whistle at me," Luis Suarez said this week. It may be just as well. Past experience could provide a grounding for 90 minutes of whistling, booing, taunting and general vocal disapproval.

To adapt the lyrics of Liverpool's anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, Suarez is not walking through a storm as much as running straight into one. Old Trafford rarely extends a hospitable welcome to visiting Liverpool players but it is likely to be especially intimidating. And yet there may not be too many who are inclined to sympathise with the Uruguayan.

For the majority, this is a blizzard of Suarez's creation. For the minority, who generally have Anfield allegiances, he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

They reject the findings of the independent inquiry who handed him an eight-game suspension after deeming him guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

"He should never have been out in the first place," was a defiant Kenny Dalglish's reaction to the striker's return.

His has been a combative approach. While yesterday he trod a diplomatic path, Dalglish has played to the galleries at Anfield, the defender of all things Liverpool pleasing his public. Suarez was afforded a rapturous reception when he returned as a substitute against Tottenham on Monday.

Liverpool's unapologetic stance is a product of a view that they have nothing to apologise for. United disagree, quietly but pointedly.

"We have kept our counsel, which was the right thing to do," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "We will keep it that way."

The United manger may welcome Tom Cleverley back today, while Ryan Giggs has signed a new one-year contract to take him past his 39th birthday. Each occupied Ferguson's attention more than Suarez.

Claiming not to be bothered if the striker and Evra shake hands before kick-off - and Dalglish has said the Uruguayan is willing to - he added: "It's not an issue."

Yet Evra's reception at Anfield a fortnight ago remains one. The Frenchman was booed relentlessly, something Liverpool fans claimed was because of their dislike of the left-back, rather than his ethnicity. Dalglish dismissed it at the time as "a bit of banter". Nevertheless, Suarez ought to expect reciprocal treatment, if not worse.

"I have to tell them, they are going to spur me on if they whistle at me," the Uruguayan said. It is a likely possibility. Not that it will necessarily subdue him: infamy and impact can go hand in hand and United have prior warning of his ability.

If the low point of Suarez's Liverpool career came against United - October's meeting, where his use of the word "negro" to Evra prompted the ban - so did the high watermark.

March's meeting illustrated that he could also mistreat the United defence in altogether more admirable fashion.

An irresistible performance of incessant running resulted in a 3-1 victory when, even thought Dirk Kuyt got all the Liverpool goals, Suarez was the tormentor in chief.

No game has done more to cement his status as a Liverpool hero; none, perhaps, has epitomised his on-field excellence in England so concisely.

It was a display of coruscating brilliance, lacking only the finishing touch. Amid the headlines he has generated, it is easy to forget Suarez has only scored five league goals this season.

On an afternoon when his every touch is likely to provoke an audible reaction, anonymity is not an option. Even if it were, the chances are he would eschew it.

His comeback was only four minutes old when the latest flashpoint arrived: Suarez was cautioned for kicking Scott Parker in the stomach, an offence the watching Wayne Rooney tweeted he thought merited a red card.

So he remains a controversy magnet: often accused of diving, proved to have bitten an opponent during his Ajax days and, in his country's colours, happy to handle the ball on his own line to prevent their elimination from the World Cup.

He is eulogised at Anfield and vilified elsewhere, found guilty by the FA and the court of public opinion of racial abuse.

"Luis Suarez," sang the Tottenham fans. "We know what you are."

A year into his time in England, greater knowledge of Suarez has simply polarised opinions about him. Anfield's idol is Old Trafford's enemy.



4.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5