Would the 'Cannibal of Ajax' add some more bite to Liverpool's attack?
Luis Suarez was one of the stars of the World Cup but his record in the Netherlands requires close inspection
Watching from high in the rainswept Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, as Uruguay and South Korea chased a World Cup quarter-final place last summer, the eye was drawn to a player dropping off into space at a corner as if he were Billy Dane from 1970s comic Scorcher wearing "Dead Shot" Keen's magic boots, which could anticipate the ball's destination. Sure enough Diego Forlan's corner eluded everyone until it reached Luis Suarez who neatly sidestepped a defender before curling a sweet shot inside the far post.
The goal recalled Robbie Fowler in his pomp, which makes it fitting that, as Liverpool search for a new hero, they have alighted upon the prolific Uruguayan striker.
Suarez is the first target of Liverpool's new transfer policy. Whether by the use of metrics, or the accumulated wisdom of Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool are seeking to establish a certainty in the transfer market which has eluded the club in recent years. They thus hope to avoid repeating such mistakes as Alberto Aquilani, Andrei Voronin, Robbie Keane, Damien Plessis, Jermaine Pennant, Paul Konchesky, Bruno Cheyrou, etc.
Suarez appears to fit the bill perfectly: one of the successes of the World Cup, he is a proven goalscorer with Ajax, a versatile striker and, at 23, young enough to have a sell-on value.
But nothing is ever certain in the transfer market. Ryan Babel looked a shrewd capture when he signed for Liverpool in 2007. Just 20 years old he had several years' experience with Ajax, was a Dutch international, and no less a judge than Marco van Basten believed he had the "potential to be the next Thierry Henry". Babel, however, never settled at Anfield and is soon to depart.
Suarez has at least already adapted once to a change in culture having left South America for the Netherlands at 19. He only had one season behind him, but had won the Uruguayan title with Nacional.
Groningen, the club from the university town in the Dutch north, signed him for €800,000. After one season, during which he scored 17 goals in 37 matches, Ajax signed him for €7.5m. For them he has scored 110 goals in 154 matches, on the face of it a highly impressive return.
Goals in the Eredivisie need, however, to be studied carefully. As Middlesbrough found when signing Afonso Alves, or Chelsea in recruiting Mateja Kezman, the currency is debased by weak defences. Alves scored 43 goals in 39 games for Heerenveen, but only one in four against the giants, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax. Kezman scored heavily domestically for PSV, but managed three goals in four seasons in the Champions League.
Suarez's first Champions League campaign was this season. He scored once in five outings. Domestically, he has only scored once against teams in the top half of this year's Eredivisie, six times against teams in the bottom half. He has not scored against anyone since 19 October and is nine matches without a goal.
Food for thought for Dalglish. But Suarez is not just a goalscorer, he is also a creator being credited with almost as many assists as goals. He is effectively two-footed and while ordinary in the air (despite being 5ft, 11in) has good movement and is a set-piece specialist. At Ajax, he has tended to play on the right of an attacking trio in the Dutch style but can also play in the centre either as the second striker, one of two forwards, or a lone front man.
For Uruguay in the World Cup, he played all those roles, frequently interchanging with Forlan and Edinson Cavani in a very dangerous attack. He scored three goals in South Africa, but will be best remembered for the one he prevented, the last-minute handball in the quarter-final that denied Ghana what would have been a winner. Suarez was dismissed and if most pros said "I'd have done the same", his triumphalism when Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent spot-kick, and after Uruguay ultimately won on penalties, did him no favours.
Temperament is an issue with Suarez. One of seven brothers brought up fatherless, in his early teens he was threatened with being axed from his youth team if he did not knuckle down to train. Perhaps encouraged by his elder brother Paolo, a professional player now based in El Salvador, he did. However, he retains a propensity to attract trouble. He is a serial collector of yellow cards, and the occasional red, including one on his international debut. Ajax once suspended him after a half-time fight with a team-mate.
Most notoriously, he was banned in November for seven matches after biting an opponent on the shoulder. That led him to being branded "the Cannibal of Ajax" and suggested fatherhood – his wife Sonia, a childhood sweetheart, gave birth to a daughter in August – has yet to mellow him.
Martin Jol's decision to make him Ajax captain this season may thus be seen more as an unsuccessful attempt to encourage greater self-control than a reflection of maturity, though Jol may also have been trying to compensate Suarez for his failure to secure a post-World Cup move.
That was largely because Ajax wanted €35m (£30m) at the time. The price has dropped, which is why Liverpool are interested. If they get their man it is not hard to envisage Suarez and Fernando Torres forming a lethal partnership, but, as John W Henry will learn, in the transfer market nothing is guaranteed.
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