Luis Suarez is not going to any other club at any price and the notion of Arsenal, a potential Champions League rival, being permitted to buy him was “ludicrous”, Liverpool’s principal owner, John W Henry has declared.
In his first public discussion of Suarez’s public agitation for a transfer, which has seen the striker banished from training with the first-team squad, Henry insisted that even a Real Madrid bid for the Uruguayan would be rejected because “we haven’t identified anyone who hasn’t moved or isn’t moving to replace him. So for football reasons we can’t sell – and especially not to Arsenal.”
Henry voiced his deep indignation that the £40m break clause in Suarez’s contract, subject to a confidentiality agreement when he signed a new deal, had apparently been revealed to Arsenal, leading them to bid a pound more than that figure. “It should have been confidential, so absolutely it does [concern me],” said Henry. “How does a club who doesn’t have permission to speak with your player see his contract? [It happened with] Chelsea and Fernando [Torres].”
The owner clearly believes that Suarez is of more value to Liverpool in his current ostracised position, training alone, if it means Arsenal will not benefit from his goals in a season in which Henry anticipates Champions League qualification for Liverpool.
“For all the top clubs it’s extremely important [not to sell to a rival],” he said. “But especially for Liverpool, since we’re not in Europe this year and haven’t been in the Champions League for a while. Obviously, to sell Luis to a rival for those positions, or one of those positions, would be ludicrous.”
Henry has told the Arsenal chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, in a personal conversation that he “unequivocally” will not be buying Suarez, though the Liverpool owner has not ruled out another Arsenal bid. “That doesn’t seem to slow them down so I can’t wait to see what the next one is,” said Henry, who does not flinch from making mischievous comments about Arsenal. He added that Suarez’s logic in wanting to move to the club is patently misguided because “we’ve won more cups than… no, I don’t really want to get into that..!”
Bringing Suarez back into the fold from his current state of estrangement would be one of the more remarkable turnarounds in English football but Henry, who is prevented by Fifa’s articles of association from forcing Suarez to rot in the reserves indefinitely, said the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, will decree whether the 26-year-old plays for the club again.
He also reiterated how deep the club’s support had been for Suarez during the Patrice Evra racist remark affair in 2011 but hinted that the approach was actually misguided. “I wouldn’t call it regret [about how we handled it],” he said. “I would say that… what would I say? Suggestions please…”
Henry and Rodgers must now hope that the club’s firm and unequivocal stance – which has been well received within a sport weighed down by Suarez’s and Wayne Rooney’s wearisome efforts to break their contracts – will force the Uruguayan to abandon hopes of an immediate departure and accept the Professional Footballers’ Association plea that he sit down to thrash out a compromise: perhaps an exit 12 months from now. Henry has no intention of meeting with Suarez, who for the record arrived at Melwood at 9.50am today and was on the training ground at 10.30am.
The Liverpool owner said that Suarez’s conduct would simply not happen in baseball, where he owns the Boston Red Sox franchise. He put that down to a culture of loyalty alien to some footballers – who actually earn less than baseball players.
“Generally – at least in Boston – we have the opposite experience,” Henry said. “There’s a saying over there called loyalty to the uniform. There’s a feeling there when you put on the uniform. It used to be that baseball players didn’t change teams; they didn’t really have free agents for decades. It was probably the same thing here. But there’s a certain feeling you get when you put on a uniform as a baseball player and I’m certain it’s the same for most football players. I’d imagine for most footballers to put on the uniform of Liverpool Football Club is a big moment.”
Henry will not complain to the Premier League about the disclosure of the £40m clause. “Unfortunately it’s the way it works in football,” he said.
Clearly exasperated by the kind of break clause at the root of the Suarez controversy, he supported PFA chairman Gordon Taylor’s desire to eradicate them. “It seems to be done throughout football. I think Mr Taylor is right when he says it’s not good for either side. It’s not good for football and maybe the PFA can do something about this.”