“We will see. We will see,” Brendan Rodgers said on Monday, when asked whether Luis Suarez, who is in line to return for Liverpool at Old Trafford on Wednesday night after completing a 10-game suspension, has learned lessons from the consequences of biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield on 21 April.
It was hard to tell whether Rodgers was smiling or grimacing when he spoke, though Liverpool and their manager know that they can no more predict what Suarez will do when the red mist drops in the heat of competitive action than they can tell where he will be playing his football this time next year.
Rodgers – who said that the new deal that is likely to require Glen Johnson taking a cut in his £120,000-a-week salary would be discussed “at the right time” – declared that Suarez owed Liverpool, having stood by him through the Ivanovic episode and then finding the Uruguayan publicly agitating to leave and accusing Rodgers of reneging on a promise to release him to play Champions League football with Arsenal this summer.
“I’m sure he does [owe Liverpool],” the manager said. “But you’ll find out that once he gets that strip on he’ll work his socks off. He’s received nothing but affection and love from the supporters. They deserve no less than 100 per cent and, knowing Luis, that’s what he’ll give them.”
Few players crave football like Suarez, whose enthusiasm for the game is the flip-side of the unpredictability which is likely to have seen him encouraged to seek conversations with Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist who has been working with the squad one day a week. Rodgers spoke yesterday of the behind-closed-doors game against Burnley, staged at Melwood last week as part of the effort to get the striker as match-fit as he can be after five months out of domestic football. Some of the more experienced players were missing, recovering from a reserve-team game the night before, though Suarez gave a characteristically ebullient contribution.
“Maybe another player, or the majority of players, might not have wanted to play in that [game],” Rodgers said. “But I know how much he loves the game. And I see how passionate he is when we travel home and away and when we play in games. So I’ve got absolutely no question he has missed the game and that’s what he lives for.”
That the comeback is at Manchester United, where his refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra after racially abusing him brought negative headlines for Liverpool all over the world, seems an unwelcome test of his capacity to play with edge but without getting himself banned again.
Rodgers offered no guarantees. “Let’s hope not,” he said to the notion of further suspensions. “It’s been an interesting couple of years for him here. He’s a top player and he needs to be on the grass, playing football, showing all his qualities to the supporters here.
“I am very hopeful he is now focused on delivering for them after the great support he’s had here.”Reuse content