Not since Eric Cantona leapt on to the stanchion after equalising against Liverpool at Old Trafford has there been a comeback quite so anticipated as that of Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz.
His ban has been 10 games rather than the eight months the great Frenchman received in 1995 for hurling himself into the chest of a particularly noxious Crystal Palace fan but, given the rise of the internet, it has been picked over almost as much.
Both threatened to quit, each citing intolerable press intrusion. Cantona, holed up in his hotel suite at Worsley Park, wanted to return to France. Suarez argued his life would be easier if he moved to London, where every national newspaper is produced. Both stayed.
That Suarez is available to face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday is a neat piece of symmetry, although there is a difference. Cantona’s absence cost United the title in 1995. Beginning with a 6-0 evisceration of Newcastle, Liverpool have flourished without Suarez. Saturday’s barren 1-0 defeat by Southampton was the exception to the pattern.
Given the way he has supported Liverpool by turning up to every one of their games at Anfield, Suarez still appears what Kenny Dalglish used to call “the wee smiley guy”. His appearance in a Uruguayan advert in which, dressed in a suit, he dives, blames everyone else in the office for the lack of coffee and knocks co-workers off their keyboards suggests humour and self-awareness.
However, there will be casualties when he returns. Suarez’s absence gave Daniel Sturridge the chance to shine that at Manchester City and Chelsea he was never granted. They have proved they can play together – both found the net in that fateful game against Chelsea when Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic – but for Raheem Sterling, Victor Moses and Iago Aspas, a man who does not fill the No 9 at Liverpool, the limelight may fade.
If Jose Mourinho’s decision to let Moses leave Stamford Bridge seems reasonable, giving Everton the services of Romelu Lukaku, a member of the Belgian “golden generation” and a Chelsea fan who numbered Didier Drogba and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink among his heroes, appeared bizarre.
His 17 goals for West Bromwich Albion were more than Wayne Rooney or Sergio Aguero achieved for their clubs last season. Lukaku was sixth in the list of the Premier League’s leading scorers and fourth when it came to the percentage of their club’s goals scored by a single player. Christian Benteke, who accounted for 40 per cent of Aston Villa’s goals, tops that particular list, which is why his injury dulled their 1-0 win at Norwich on Saturday.
There is an episode of the 1970s TV series Happy Days in which The Fonz is unable to speak the phrase “I was wrong”. The self-styled Happy One might have similar problems when it comes to Samuel Eto’o. “He is still a killer,” Mourinho had remarked in the wake of an insipid debut at Everton but he no longer looks like a striker who delivers European Cups.
His sharpness seems dulled by two years of penthouse living in Moscow – flying down to Dagestan under armed guard to play for Anzhi Makhachkala on match days.
For this he earned £35m and it would be like asking a singer who has grown fat and rich playing Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to do a world tour. Would Eto’o really have risked injury to score the winner as Lukaku did for Everton at Upton Park?
“You still have to put your head where it hurts,” said Roberto Martinez, who is now the Premier League’s only unbeaten manager. “The younger generation sometimes forget the old, strong attributes you need to be a footballer.”
That Stéphane Sessègnon should have scored the opening goal that hastened his former manager at Sunderland, Paolo Di Canio, to defeat was proof of what the football writer, Brian Glanville, would call the “immutable law of the ex”.
Di Canio had his reasons for ridding Sunderland of a dangerous but inconsistent footballer. He had been arrested for drink-driving on a night his team was playing Milton Keynes Dons in the League Cup.
Sessègnon is also not a footballer who would have been comfortable with Di Canio’s urge to march his men until they drop. Despite his arrest, he is not brash off the pitch. His new manager at West Bromwich Albion, Steve Clarke, described him as the “only man who smiles less than me”. His shyness meant he would only give interviews to The Sunderland Echo because they would talk to him in French.
Nevertheless, Sessègnon played a pivotal role in the only two Premier League games Di Canio has won and those who have followed his career on Wearside closely say he could turn one game in five.
That might equate to 21 points over the course of a season. This morning Sunderland have one.
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