By David Lynch
Luis Suarez brought an end to a difficult year at Liverpool in the best possible way on Tuesday by signing a long-term contract with the club.
The Uruguayan joined the Reds in January 2011 on a Kenny Dalglish-led tidal wave of goodwill, as the cobwebs of the restrictive Roy Hodgson era were blown out of Anfield thanks to the Scot’s arrival just weeks after new owners Fenway Sports Group.
Despite the loss of Fernando Torres in January, the end of that season offered a lot of hope for club's fans and in Suarez they had an instant replacement as the talisman up top.
The exhausting battle against previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett had finally ended in victory and with a club legend in charge, who had put the Merseyside outfit in title-winning form toward the end of the campaign, it appeared little could go wrong.
Yet the 2011-12 season firmly crushed these expectations, as Dalglish’s men failed to kick on and ended up with an eighth-place finish which could not be soothed by success in the League Cup. Suarez, in fact, characterised the Reds’ greatest flaws in a disappointing season, with his remarkable profligacy in front of goal and propensity to blame the referee when things went against his side.
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When the former Ajax man was hit with an eight-match ban from the FA for racially abusing Patrice Evra in the winter, it seemed his Anfield fairytale had turned quickly sour after such a promising start. The reception he has received at grounds up and down the country since that toxic affair tells the story, but none more so than the widespread booing during the generally high-spirited Olympic Games.
Suarez is a controversial character in English football and the boos are proof that he is widely disliked – but in this new contract he has been offered a chance at redemption by his club.
New Reds boss Brendan Rodgers this week called for the 25-year-old to move on from the racism charge, perhaps in the knowledge that the affair is taking its toll on both club and player. But the Merseysiders have emphasised that they will stand behind him as he attempts to do so in the long term, and he will need all the help he can get in his attempts to win over his doubters in English football.
Of course FSG’s reasons for tying their man down are not entirely selfless. Liverpool Football Club plc is not a charity and there are numerous reasons on both the football and business side for ensuring the Salto-born striker remains.
While the futures of Andy Carroll, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger come increasingly under scrutiny, Suarez is quite clearly marked down as an unsellable asset and this is entirely accurate. Carroll’s position is unusual in that he was bought for far above his market value, but the latter two - as is the case with most defenders - were bought for the relatively cheap sum of £6 million each.
Finding another Luis Suarez in this manner might not be so easy, a truth betrayed by his contract extension, and such a move also allows FSG to reaffirm their commitment to making Liverpool great again.
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Though they have been quiet, there have been whispers of discontent this summer amongst the club’s fanbase as experienced campaigners such as Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez have headed for the exit whilst only Fabio Borini has arrived. The number of names linked with moves away - such as those above - also continues to grow whilst links with new players coming in are thin on the ground.
Suarez’s new deal may just buy the Boston-based owners the time they need to continue their patient work on building Rodgers’ squad ahead of the new season. However, they must accept it will not be enough on its own. It is a foundation which must be built on.
That said, given the turmoil which has surrounded Liverpool in recent years, it is a start which should be cherished.