RECIFE, Brazil – With one disgraceful bite on Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, Luis Suarez may have gone from being one of the world's most desired soccer players to one of its least.
Before his latest indiscretion – he has been handed long-term bans twice before for biting, plus another for racially abusing an opponent – Suarez was poised to take a giant career leap. After carrying his professional club, English Premier League team Liverpool, to the brink of the title before narrowly falling short, Spanish power Barcelona was preparing a multi-million dollar package to lure him away in the transfer window, according to reports.
And they weren't just any reports, either. The story emanated from El Mundo Deportivo, a newspaper from Barcelona's Catalonia region that effectively serves as the club's mouthpiece when it doesn't want to be quoted directly.
Going to Barca would have thrust Suarez – who some pundits began to consider the most in-form player on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi included – into a new stratosphere in terms of earnings, publicity, exposure and the quality of his teammates. Liverpool is a fine club that responded brilliantly to a long period of under-performing, but it also spent most of the last two decades behind Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and, much more recently, Manchester City.
Now, it is hard to see any way that Barcelona could realistically go after Suarez and make him a focal point of its attack. The club is big enough to survive bad publicity and it would not necessarily be afraid of the storm of attention that a transfer would inevitably generate, as it permanently operates in the glare of the spotlight.
However, Barcelona's concern would be entirely valid. Suarez has the ability to turn a game on its head, to turn a loss into a tie or a tie into a win. But to gain the most effectiveness out of him requires, to a certain extent, at least part of the attacking formation to be tailored to his needs.
Given his propensity for moments of madness, that would be a risk Barca could not afford to take. Because when Suarez makes mistakes, he makes them in a huge way.
In 2010 while playing for Dutch side Ajax, Suarez was suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal. He then sat eight games in 2011 for spouting racist words at Manchester United's Patrice Evra and picked up a 10-match ban for chewing on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic's bicep last year.
That's the kind of disruption a club like Barcelona simply can't afford.
Spain's La Liga title last season, virtually every campaign figures to develop into a showdown between Barca and hated rival Real Madrid. Both teams are stronger, deeper, wealthier and more powerful than their domestic opponents and, as a result, win a vast majority of their games. With such a strong rival lurking, any mistake could be catastrophic. Losing a key forward would be costly.Even though Atletico Madrid pulled off a major shock by winning
If, as expected, the move to Barcelona falls through, it would be a huge blow for Suarez, who is said to be enamored with the club and would love to move there to be near his in-laws with whom he is close. And it would leave him in potential limbo. One would think Liverpool would wish it could wash its hands of him given the ongoing embarrassment he has caused, especially after club owner John Henry, head coach Brendan Rodgers, captain Steven Gerrard and the club's loyal fan base all stood by him.
But Liverpool could only justify offloading him if the price is right. He cost $30 million in the first place and while that now seems a bargain if you count only his playing talent, it is hardly chump change. Then there is the fact that, without him, Liverpool would turn from likely title contenders to perhaps a team hovering at the fringes of England's top four, but no better.
A transfer fee in the region of $85 million would be needed to make Liverpool bite (pardon the pun), but only Barca or Real Madrid would realistically pay that amount. They wouldn't do so for such a flawed character.
The likeliest outcome is that Suarez stays at Liverpool, at least for now, but in a somewhat different situation than before. After having forgiven him previously, Liverpool may be more circumspect this time around. Soccer fans can have short memories when a player is winning games for them, but bank on more suspicion and less blind faith moving forward.
A common theory on why Suarez was so driven and so effective at Liverpool last season is because he felt wanted and protected and was touched by the way the organization stood by him. But already the disquiet has begun. Phil Thompson and Robbie Fowler, both club legends dear to the hearts of supporters, voiced criticism and said he should go. Thompson said Suarez had "brought shame" on Liverpool, while Fowler insisted he had dragged the club's good name "through the mud."
If those views manifest, this situation could get even uglier. Because Luis Suarez is erratic and explosive and unpredictable. And as for when he gets frustrated, well, we've already seen what happens.
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