Luis Suarez is by some distance the best player Steven Gerrard has played with at Liverpool and one who the England captain believes has shown his true character this season.
Few expected to see the Uruguayan don the red shirt again after a summer of speculation, controversy and frustration, yet the 27-year-old was persuaded to stay at Anfield and the rewards reaped by all parties have been spectacular.
Putting the negative headlines behind him, Suarez netted a remarkable 31 goals as the Reds came within touching distance of a first top-flight title in 24 years.
That form saw him sweep up at the end-of-season awards, including the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year award which was collected on his behalf by manager Brendan Rodgers on Thursday.
Liverpool captain Gerrard believes that award is particularly special as it highlights Suarez's "huge turnaround", and is deserved recognition for the club's best player this millennium.
"I've been privileged to play alongside some great players during my years at Liverpool but nobody comes close to Luis," the Reds skipper said.
"He's not only the best, he's the best by some distance.
"We've all seen what he's done this season with his goals and his all-round brilliance and I think it's taken Luis on to a different level.
"Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best players in the world and have been for the last four or five years, but Luis is tucked right in there behind them now."
This season has seen quite the turnaround from Suarez, who last year received just two votes in the FWA poll.
He has come full circle since serving a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, with his behaviour vastly-improved to that seen in previous seasons.
"People look at him and will still pick up on the controversy that he's been involved with over the last couple of years," Gerrard said in the awards programme.
"But I prefer to judge a person by how he responds to setbacks and the way Luis has responded has been magnificent.
"He was incredibly despondent last summer. He knew he'd let himself and the club down but, more importantly, he felt he'd let his family down."
Alternative Premier League Team of the Season 2013/14
Alternative Premier League Team of the Season 2013/14
1/10 David Marshall (Cardiff)
An honourable place goes to the goalkeeper, who has made nearly 150 saves in the league this season for beleaguered Cardiff. He has also conceded 71, mind…
2/10 Morgan Amalfitano (WBA)
As the old saying goes, the West Brom player is not a “great goal scorer, but a scorer of great goals”. Manchester United and Cardiff will certainly attest.
3/10 Kolo Toure (Liverpool)
As the old saying goes (II), the Liverpool defender is not a “great own-goal scorer, but a scorer of great own goals”. Fulham will certainly attest.
4/10 Dan Burn (Fulham)
The towering Fulham defender makes the team for easily dealing with a total of 81 crosses from Manchester United in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, and then compared the champions to a lowly team from the Conference. He later said that this was not meant as an insult, but to most watching the game it looked like he was giving an accurate description.
5/10 Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United)
The curious case of Wilfried Zaha. Signed as the "Next Big Thing" by Sir Alex Ferguson for £10m in January 2013 after winning two England caps with Crystal Palace in the Championship. After joining up at Old Trafford from last season’s loan spell at Palace, he made only two appearances under David Moyes before being shipped to Cardiff on loan. He had plenty of time on his hands, then, to fiercely deny an alleged relationship with Moyes' daughter, saying that they had "never even met".
6/10 Kevin Nolan (West Ham)
Every team needs a bit of fire in the middle…although Nolan took this to another level between 7 December and 1 January, when he was handed two reds cards in the space of four matches. The festive season does do strange things to people.
7/10 Kim Kallstrom (Arsenal)
He could have been a great loan signing to deputise in the absence of Aaron Ramsey. Then came the shock of the beach ball incident, fingers were waved and three months later he finally made an appearance for the club, 12 days before Ramsey returned, rendering the whole deal pretty much pointless, unless he scores the winner in the FA Cup final...
8/10 Stephen Ireland (Stoke City)
Now his ‘dead’ grandmother is back on the scene and allegedly talking to his national team assistant coach Roy Keane, Ireland could be back playing for Ireland soon. An integral part of Mark Hughes’ new ball-playing Stoke juggernaut.
9/10 Shane Long (WBA/ Hull City)
The striker has scored under double figures in all competitions, but he can rest assured that for 10 glorious minutes at The Hawthorns he was nothing short of world class, scoring two magnificent goals in West Brom’s 2-2 draw with local rivals Aston Villa. It all went downhill for the next 80 minutes however.
10/10 Samuel Eto'o (Chelsea)
33 or 35, veteran Samuel Eto’o continues to bang them in whatever division he is in. And who didn’t love that ‘old man’ celebration in response to manager Jose Mourinho questioning his real age.
Gerrard continued: "They mean so much to him that he didn't want his children growing up and reading about just the bad things he's done, he wanted them to see the positive side of their dad.
"As captain, I was there for him. We talked a fair few times and I tried to be as supportive as I possibly could.
"It doesn't matter what words you come up with, though, it's down to the lad himself to respond - and Luis has certainly done that.
"Yes, I think there were times in the summer when he wanted to leave Liverpool, that he thought he needed a change.
"One thing I'll say for this club is that they weren't just strong in standing by Luis, they also made him realise just how important he was to their plans this season."
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