Liverpool have banished Luis Suarez to train away from the first-team squad until he is ready to show respect to his club and team-mates – a move which underlines their refusal to be cowed by a player whose contract leaves them under no obligation to sell.
The club, who are already deeply unhappy that Arsenal were apparently made aware of the confidential clause in Suarez's deal allowing him to speak to any club who offered £40m this summer, suffered the further indignity of the Uruguayan publicly accusing his manager, Brendan Rodgers, of reneging on a verbal agreement that he could leave. But Liverpool have moved rapidly to seek the moral high ground by ostracising Suarez and they do so from a position of strength, as the Professional Footballers' Association has also warned the striker that any legal action he launches to force an exit from Liverpool looks doomed to fail.
Suarez's claim, that a release clause written into his contract allowed him to leave if Liverpool failed to reach the 2013-14 Champions League and a side competing in it offered £40m, does not appear to stand up to legal scrutiny. The PFA chairman, Gordon Taylor, who has viewed the document since his organisation was called in to arbitrate in the past fortnight, said last night that the significant clause compelled Liverpool only to let Suarez talk to such a club.
"There is a clause in there that if Liverpool do not qualify for the Champions League and then they receive a minimum offer of £40m, then the parties will 'agree in good faith to discuss and negotiate in good faith' and see what transpires," Taylor said. "It is not a straightforward buyout clause and the contract is open to different interpretations. It doesn't say there is an automatic trigger for a move."
Suarez suggested that there had been a verbal agreement with Rodgers, though Taylor also told The Independent that an informal conversation carried no legal weight. "Never mind what has been said previously or verbally, it doesn't say you've a right to leave," he said. "If there was a gentleman's agreement, the manager may well say it is down to that but the owners of the club may feel differently. That is quite crucial."
Opinion sought by The Independent made it clear that Suarez's threat to seek legal arbitration through the Premier League will not secure him a move before the transfer window closes early next month. Ian Lynam, a sports lawyer with the firm Charles Russell, said such a case could drag out for months and also stated that the "entire-agreement" clause in all Premier League contracts prevent any verbal agreement carrying weight, if not contained within the contract.
Liverpool's decision to send Suarez to work with the reserves also reflects their feeling that he has shown no respect for Rodgers' training sessions, the last of which he limped out of with a foot injury on Tuesday, hours before giving voice to grievances about the club's refusal to let him join Arsenal. The PFA is also aware of Liverpool's deep discontent that Arsenal were able to discover details of the £40m clause, thus enabling them to bid a pound more than that sum and trigger talks last month. Suarez will have signed a confidentiality clause when concluding the contract.
This issue may muddy the waters if Suarez now seeks legal redress. Middlesbrough's case against Liverpool over Christian Ziege dragged on for months, when the Teesside club argued that the Merseysiders had profited from confidential information to bid at Ziege's exact £5.5m release clause in 2000. The two sides settled out of court. A Premier League panel ruled against Gabriel Heinze in 2007 when he claimed Manchester United had given him written permission to pursue a transfer to Liverpool.
Taylor indicated the PFA believes Liverpool might not have been in the position in which they find themselves had they consulted the players' union over the controversial clause, which is relatively rare. His organisation has also told the Premier League it is concerned about such clauses, which threaten rifts between clubs and players which are bad for the image of the game. "These 'buyout' clauses can lead to ambiguity when there is English law and the laws of another country. The clauses need to be as clear as daylight and they are not," Taylor said.
Though a formal transfer request had been anticipated, Suarez was said to be awaiting Liverpool's reaction to his public statement. "I can only see that the best way round this is get round the table and sort out a valuation that is acceptable or we say give it another year," Taylor said.
A challenging week got even more difficult for Rodgers when Barcelona bid £17m for central defender Daniel Agger – with a sum closer to £25m probably necessary to trigger any discussion between the two clubs.