We all put labels on people. That annoying co-worker you don’t like, the boring neighbour that you’re always forced to say hello to, the miserly boss who won’t give you a pay rise.
These labels are usually negative ones, and once you’ve got one they can be extremely hard to shake off.
Take Luis Suarez for example.
The Uruguayan is English football’s pantomime villain, stalking the game with his divisive, win-at-all-costs mentality, which seems to both enthral and enflame in equal measure.
He is quite simply a one-off, but far too often, the seemingly endless talk about him is not about the magic he can do with the ball at his feet.
According to many he is a cheat, a diver, a fraud and far worse given what happened with Patrice Evra last season. These labels have stuck to him for pretty much his entire career in England, so much so that they perhaps won’t ever come off.
As Suarez has said himself, though, he doesn’t really care what other people think about him. But if those people were to stop and consider the merits of Suarez the footballer—and so much of his excellence with the ball at his feet comes from the very same attitude that people like to criticise him for—then they’ll see a quite brilliant talent.
He is easily the most watchable player in England.
Yet will he be featuring heavily when the end-of-season awards are handed out?
Those awards—both individually and for his team—will most probably go to Robin van Persie. The Dutchman is a less interesting man to watch on the field, but he’s certainly an effective one.
Van Persie has been an excellent signing for Manchester United. At a time when several clubs, most notably Liverpool, appear obsessed with stockpiling players who can make an impact in the future, the Dutchman has been plucked from the Arsenal forward line and has taken to life at Old Trafford as if he’s been there for years.
At £24 million he cost marginally more than Liverpool paid for Suarez, but Sir Alex Ferguson knew that he was buying goals when he sanctioned the outlay. There was to be no settling-in period and no need to adjust to a new life and new a culture. Other than the Manchester rain there, wasn’t really anything that Van Persie would have to adapt to. By buying him, United might have effectively bought the title.
But where’s the harm in that? Other clubs have done it before. Van Persie wears the label of Manchester United’s superhero and does it brilliantly. Take away those labels and the ones on Suarez, though, and who would you rather pay to watch?
Its Suarez isn’t it?
Playing in an inferior team and with almost all of the goalscoring burden thrust upon him for the vast majority of the season, Suarez has been simply superb.
That his goals have come in all shapes and sizes—Suarez doesn’t take penalties, although Liverpool have only had one all season—only adds to his abilities, and there simply isn’t a better player in England at emerging from tight situations with the ball at his feet.
Of all the stats and figures you can quote about him, perhaps this is the starkest: against Norwich City on Saturday afternoon he surpassed the tally of Premier League shots he took throughout the whole of last season. And there are still 15 games to go.
Quite simply you don’t know what is going to happen next with the Uruguayan, and it is that joyous, edge-of-the-seat stuff that you’d hope would bring the majority of people around to appreciating him for his footballing abilities. Those labels won’t disappear any time soon though.
The saintly Van Persie will walk away with the acclaim and the prizes come May, and Liverpool will have to start challenging for the big honours again if they are to keep hold of their own star man.
He’s here for now, though, and for as long as he is then he might as well be appreciated.
Labels can be taken off as well as put on, you know.