With the usual fire, brimstone and vitriol whirling around Luis Suarez’s future, Jon Wilmore considers whether Liverpool have a leg to stand on after ditching Pepe Reina…
Liverpool are outraged. Their fans are outraged, their manager is outraged, their club mascot, presumably, is outraged. How dare Luis Suarez make clear his intention to play football in another kit. It’s disrespectful, is what it is: disrespectful for a player to ask to leave and classless for another football club, namely Arsenal, to do their best to make that wish come true.
Elsewhere on Merseyside, Jose Manuel Reina is in the process of packing up the last eight years of his life and all his worldly possessions from his Liverpool home. He’s recently informed his wife and newborn child that they’ll be moving to Italy this summer, for how long, well, we don’t really know. In less than 12 months, Daddy might be looking for work somewhere else.
With claims that his abilities had begun to deteriorate over the past two seasons, for some neutral observers it seemed that time could well be called on the once impregnable Spaniard’s reign in goal sooner rather than later. Yet, as Reina and his young family wave goodbye to their adopted city, did Liverpool show – in line with the expectations and feelings of their fans – the class and gratitude to at least bid their loyal servant a fond farewell? No, that’s right. They loaned him out, quietly through the back door, without telling him first.
And here lies the pathetic hypocrisy behind Brendan Rodger’s sanctimonious ramblings; the sheer emptiness behind every attempt to invoke loyalty as a reason why players should feel obligated to remain at teams, blindly seeing out their contracts to the bitter end. It’s a one way street. Like any club, Liverpool’s public posturing amidst exhaustive transfer dealings demands that Suarez repay the faith that they’ve shown in him – whilst at the same time they cast aside a player guilty of little more than saying Barcelona might be quite a nice place to live one day.
Liverpool fans are well within their rights to dismiss any notion that Reina faces terminal decline, or that his replacement Simon Mignolet is a tremendous upgrade on his trusted, cult-hero predecessor. Their misgivings and defiance may yet be proven right. But even if Liverpool had found themselves a better-looking partner, they could have at least sent their ex a courtesy text explaining things. Instead, Reina arrived home to find his possessions in a box outside the front door while his erstwhile lover romped in their bed with some hunky Belgian. Next thing he knows he’s been set up and sent off on a guilt-ridden distraction attempt at match making, on a blind date with their creepy old friend.
The difference between Suarez and Reina boils down to one thing – how good they are at football. Suarez is very good at football, even seen by some fans as one of the best footballers in the world. Reina, as a goalkeeper, is automatically not as good at football, and many suspect his footballing ability is declining as time goes by. For Reina, Liverpool (and Napoli, who are not by any means a step down) are perfectly good enough. Suarez, on the other hand, would like to be playing his very good football at a slightly higher level – the very, very good Champion’s League.
In such a basic assessment of player attributes and where they feel they belong, there is no room for loyalty. The case that Suarez should not want to move his career forward just because some people sang a song in Melbourne is a ludicrous one. The outrage that Rodgers and the fans feel is simply the subject of an emotion that has been misplaced. The increasingly popular suggestion that Arsenal would not be a step forward, when Liverpool’s explicit aim of a top four finish is something Arsenal have achieved consistently for more than a decade, is equally ridiculous.
Furthermore, the reasons why Liverpool have themselves been so very loyal has to be called into question. The club are constantly keen to remind us all that they’ve stuck by young Luis through thick and thin; embraced his comedy of errors from blatant racism to on-pitch biting, and indulged his egotism by barely questioning and supporting his greedy hoarding of attempted shots. They’ve done this because he’s very good at football. Had they publicly condemned their star man, there would be no question of rejecting the amount of money already on the table. Their actions, their ridiculous pro-racism t-shirts, are all rooted in pure, bare self-interest.
Liverpool fans shouldn’t be offended when Suarez leaves. They should be thankful for the time they had with a stand-out elite player, and use the money to build upon a squad that has already shown great promise without him. The age where loyalty was a relevant concept in football is coming to an end and in Steven Gerrard they have one of the last of a dying breed. It is on players such as the home grown captain who affections should focus, a man who genuinely cares for the club in a way that in ten years’ time it is doubtful any professional player will. The lust for Luis is indeed strong but perhaps the real tragedy of Reina’s scrap heaping is that he seemed to truly reciprocate the love supporters had for him and the club. In this summer’s loaning to Napoli Liverpool may have lost something altogether greater, and far more difficult to quantify, than the experience of a seasoned pro.
In time, they’ll realise that Suarez meant them no harm – he just made the decision that was best for himself – and if they have trouble moving on, they can always ask their former goalkeeper how he coped.