Over the last five to six years, Liverpool FC has seen their fan base increase exponentially, especially in the United States. Part of this is Jurgen Klopp and his exciting brand of football, and part is the immense amount of success on the field. Another big part of it is the incredible availability of Premier League games on TV in the U.S. compared to just 10 years ago. The growth of the fan base has been incredible – welcome to all the new LFC fans, we love to have you supporting the greatest football club in the world!
A slight drawback of all the new fans is that many do not have the historical knowledge, and more importantly, the historical emotions wrapped up with the team and its former players. And NO player comes with more emotion than Luis Suarez! Many newer fans look at Suarez’s antics for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from the last few seasons and wonder how their fellow LFC fans can love this petulant instigator so much? I hope to answer that question in this article.
Let’s go back 10 years or so. In the summer of 2010, Liverpool had been a consistently solid squad but could not get over the hump. Rafael Benitez had the Reds close, but was frustrated that he had not been given the funds to properly push on. Rafa was fully aware that the financial shell game Tom Hicks and George Gillett had been playing was about to come crashing down after the global financial meltdown of 2008 had filtered through to the club so he left the club. Roy Hodgson was named manager – even the newest LFC fans know that did not turn out well.
By January of 2011, Hicks and Gillett had been forced out for FSG and Hodgson was sacked. King Kenny Dalglish came back and started to right the ship. However, Fernando Torres had seen enough and asked for a transfer. LFC granted it on the last day of January and used the fees to bring in up-and-coming Newcastle striker Andrew Carroll and an Uruguayan forward from the Dutch Eredivisie more famous/infamous for stopping a goal with his hand in the 2010 World Cup than actually scoring goals.
In Uruguay, footballing skill is revered, but exhibiting Garra Charrua (the claw) is what makes players legendary. “The claw” is an indefinable trait that refers to tenacity and grit and a never say die attitude. It took Luis Suarez a bit of time to figure out the footballing needs of the Premier League at Liverpool but he had “the claw” from day one. That first half-season with the club Suarez only scored four goals, but he never quit running or working for the team. Premier League fans love grit and tenacity and in Liverpool, it will instantly make you a fan favorite.
In the 2011-12 season, Luis Suarez showed glimpses of what he was capable of – both the good and the bad. He finished the season with 17 goals and 6 assists in 39 appearances, but what happened in those appearances goes way beyond stats. In October, Suarez was accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra. The team and fans supported him as he had fostered an amazing us versus them attitude through his determined play (the near-universal hatred of the Manchester United fullback probably also clouded people’s judgment on their thoughts on Suarez’s innocence), but the FA found him guilty and gave him an eight-match ban.
That 2011-12 season ended with a League Cup title and an FA Cup runner-up, but an 8th place league finish. Current fans need to understand this team was not very good. Stewart Downing and Jay Spearing started in that FA Final – and while both are good human beings – they are not the caliber of players to win a Premier League title. Luis Suarez was not the best player on that squad yet (Steven Gerrard) and while he was always playing his heart out for the team, his moments of brilliance were still a bit spotty. As fans, we loved him for his hustle and his refusal to take crap from anyone but had no idea just how good he was about to become.
2012-13 started with a lot of hope for LFC supporters. Brendan Rodgers had been appointed manager, the squad had turned over a bit (Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Phillippe Coutinho in, Maxi, Charlie Adam, and Dirk Kuyt out), and a trophy had just been won the previous season. However, the squad took time to bed in and learn Rodgers’ system. The team did not do particularly well in the League Cup or the FA Cup. They also bowed out of the EUFA Europa League in first knockout round and finished the season in 7th place.
What stuck out to fans that season was that Luis Suarez had taken a leap forward as a player. That season across all competitions he played in 44 games, scored 30 goals, and had 6 assists. He also earned Liverpool 6 penalties. This is something that current fans will not truly understand when it comes to comparing Suarez to Mohammed Salah. Both are terrifying to defenders when running with the ball towards goal, but whereas Mo wants to go around you or leave you grasping at air, Luis wanted to go straight through you. For NFL fans, it is comparable to Christian McCaffrey juking you versus Derrick Henry trucking you!
Suarez made the leap skill-wise in 2013 and LFC supporters were ecstatic. He should have won the Golden Boot in the Prem that season, but Suarez still had too much of the bad side of “the claw” burning inside him. On April 21, 2013, the good side of “the claw” shone as Suarez fought to the final whistle and scored an equalizer in the 97th minute to secure a 2-2 draw with Chelsea. Unfortunately, the bad side of “the claw” had struck earlier in the game when Suarez had bitten Branislav Ivanovic. The FA hit Suarez with a 10-match ban, suspending him for the last four games of the season and the start of the next season.
In the summer of 2013, Liverpool fans were still divided on Suarez. We loved his passion, his drive, and his ability to terrorize defenses, but we were not sure if he could ever be trusted to control his emotions. Also, the summer of 2013 was when Suarez courted Arsenal in some way that resulted in their infamous £40,000,001 to enact a non-existent release clause. LFC supporters wanted Suarez to lead us into the next season with his goals and tenacity but were unsure how it would actually go. Suarez responded with the greatest individual Premier League season in history.
Going into the 2013/14 season, we were not sure what to expect. We knew Suarez and Sturridge could score goals if the former could stay eligible and the latter could stay healthy. We still had one of the greatest midfielders of all time in Steven Gerrard, but beyond that, things looked iffy. Unproven youngsters (Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, and Coutinho) and underwhelming veterans (Allen and Lucas Leiva) filled out the midfield. The back four was full of uncertainty and Pepe Reina had been moved out for Simon Mignolet. We hoped that Suarez and Sturridge could fire us back into the Champions League but did not know how much higher we could get.
With no European Football, Suarez sat the first month and a half of the season (five league games and a League Cup match). Suarez returned on a mission, scoring two goals in his first game back. That was a sign of things to come as he finished the season with an insane stat line of 33 Appearances, 31 Goals, 12 Assists, and 4 penalties won (which were all converted thanks to the brilliance of Steven Gerrard). That is 37 goal involvements in 33 games. For what it is worth, Suarez added four cup appearances that did not net any more goals but added four assists.
Suarez nearly shot us to the title in 2013-14, and he gave us something amazing to cheer about for the first time in years. As that season wore on, Liverpool would blitz teams for 20-30 minute spells where they could score three or more in a spurt and then hold on for dear life as the defense might give up two or three. Other times it was like a heavyweight match with both teams throwing haymakers with the Reds and Suarez always answering the bell. This team went on a 16-match unbeaten run in which they gave up 21 goals, but scored 51! It was an insane and insanely fun ride.
Through it all, Suarez was chasing every ball, closing every gap, and fighting until the last minute of every game. It did not matter if the Reds were up three or down three; he was never going to give up. He had finally harnessed the emotions of “the claw” and we were reaping the rewards. Suarez scored in all kinds of ways too. Gerrard could launch a 60-yard ball over the top that Luis would pull down on a dime. He would run onto through balls from Coutinho or Sterling or launch shots from the halfway line. He would knock in rebounds and power in headers, and he would get the ball on the edge of the box and plow forward through three defenders. It was similar to Mo Salah on form but different. With Suarez, Liverpool were not a great team at the time they were just riding a wave that he was making. With Mo, he is like Captain American leading the Avengers – the key cog in an amazing team that has conquered the world. With Luis, he was like Tony Stark in the early Iron Man movies – just a bit arrogant and willing to single-handedly try to win everything for his side.
For two incredible seasons, Luis Suarez was a goal machine for Liverpool at a time when they were not a great squad. He nearly ended the title drought through sheer will and Garra Charrua. His desire and persistence led an average squad to impressive heights. We won’t dwell on what came after that 2013-14 season. For one glorious year, we had the best goal scorer in the world!
For LFC fans who watched that team, there will forever be a soft spot in our hearts for Luis Suarez. His traits are prototypical for a “crowd favorite” – desire, tenacity, doggedness, danger, shithousery, the ability to instigate and frustrate, refusal to take any crap from any opponent, willingness to give everything on the field, and the goals, oh my God the goals! The reason you love him as one of ours is why we hate him as one of theirs. For us lucky fans who watched him play his heart out for us, our first thoughts of Luis will always be him wheeling away from the goal with three fingers raised, kissing his wrist as he fired in another for us… no matter how petulant and frustrating he is tomorrow or the next time we play against him!