Why Luis Suarez Is Liverpool's Modern-Day Kenny Dalglish
When Luis Suarez signed for Liverpool on January 31, 2011, he was handed the No. 7 shirt and a heavy responsibility—to emulate one of the men who made that shirt great, and who was now his manager.
Kenny Dalglish was the Reds' boss at the time, having lifted himself to legendary status within the club during his playing days and, later, in his first spell as manager.
Now, a little more than two years later, Suarez has cemented his own place amongst Liverpool's elite in history, is a real crowd favourite and without doubt the best individual left on Liverpool's playing staff.
While their styles of play might be different, there can be no doubting that the two, Dalglish and Suarez, share plenty of similarities too, beyond the shirt number.
Kenny was a hero back in the day; here's why Suarez is assuming his mantle now.
The Love of Operating in All Areas of the Final Third
Both Suarez and Dalglish are (or were, in the case of the latter) forwards, without being strikers.
Dalglish loved to roam deep when it suited him, dropping into midfield or wider into the channels, without sacrificing his ability to play on the shoulder of the defence at times and moving quickly into space to get on the end of passes from deep.
One of his great strengths was that he could do both—play the pass from 20 yards behind the front line, or get on the end of them from someone else.
Luis Suarez is the same; he will drift into dangerous positions, naturally finding spaces between defence and midfield no matter where he is on the pitch horizontally.
Running the channels, so far wide he gets chalk on his boots, picking up the ball in a natural midfield environment or making a run beyond the centre-forward—Suarez does it all, and that's what makes him so difficult to mark.
In the case of both Luis and Kenny, it's also what allows/allowed other teammates to blossom too; one moment a defensive midfielder is marking them, then they make a run towards the backline which needs to be tracked, allowing Steven Gerrard (or Graeme Souness) to quickly fill the space left behind, and cause havoc.
No Shortage of Goals
Because they are forwards, though, emphasis is always going to be put on whether or not they can put the ball in the back of the net.
Questions were asked of the Uruguayan after his first full season, despite him scoring 17 goals in all competitions, because he had a tendency to miss many chances as well.
He also missed almost 10 games that season due to suspension.
This term, however, those murmurings of "not scoring enough" seem to have dried up after he hit the top of the Premier League goal charts and ran up 50 Liverpool career goals in just 91 appearances, quicker than the great Robbie Fowler.
His next goal this season will be his 30th in all competitions.
Dalglish himself was never shy about finding the net either; he scored a total of 172 goals in 515 games for the Reds, or one every three games.
That's no mean feat when you consider the striker he played alongside, who scored many of the goals during that time for the Reds, was the club's all-time leading scorer Ian Rush.
It also takes into account the end of Dalglish's career, when he only played fleetingly in games as player-manager.
Kenny was always a scorer of important goals, most notably the 1978 European Cup final-winning goal (he scored 31 that season) and the 1986 league title-clinching strike at Stamford Bridge.
Here's to the next 50 from the boots of Suarez in Liverpool red.
Terrific Close Control and Link-Up Play
Dalglish and Rush was always one of the most feared partnerships around, and as much as Rushie's fine finishing and movement lent itself to one half of that whole, Dalglish's brilliance on the ball was a huge factor.
King Kenny was indeed one of the world's best players at the time, with his ability to control the ball and immediately pick a pass to set the Reds on their way one of his biggest assets.
While he never had the incredible dribbling resilience and aggression of Suarez, he was certainly no slouch with the ball at his feet and could open up a defence with one swerve of those hips and a quick step or two into space past his man.
Suarez is perhaps the best in the Premier League right now at beating his man again and again, with his tenacity and willingness to attempt the improbable a big part of his game.
The current Reds No. 7 is also adept at linking up play in the second line of attack, though is arguably more direct than Dalglish was; the King was as likely to pass five yards back and make a quick movement to open up space, or switch play with a crossfield ball on the turn. Suarez is all about the rapid body movement, opening himself up to be facing goal on the move, assessing his options ahead.
Vision, Creativity, Genius
Both Suarez and Dalglish's most endearing and important traits were simply their ability to make things happen in the final third.
Whether a first-time return pass, a chipped ball over the defence or a quick little dummy and run, Dalglish needed only a heartbeat to set up a chance for a teammate.
Suarez just needs the ball at his feet. A quick dribble, a little pass infield or simply the fact that he naturally attracts two or three defenders towards him as soon as he gets the ball, all contribute to him opening up spaces for the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge or Raheem Sterling.
They can also do it themselves, and we've seen it a number of times from both.
Suarez and Dalglish know ahead of time what they need to do to fashion scoring chances for Liverpool and, both then and now, Liverpool's No. 7's are a constant source of excitement, ability and awe.
Love of the Fans, a Beaming Smile and the No. 7 Shirt
The No. 7 in Red also has another endearing trait; the love of the fans, returned with interest.
A bond existed, and lingers, between the Kop and Kenny Dalglish, which sees him remembered in song long after his playing days have finished and even after two spells as manager.
There were few more loved sights, or more often seen ones, in the 70s and 80s than the beaming face of Kenny Dalglish, turning towards the Anfield crowd after slotting away yet another gem of a goal.
Now it is the grinning face of the Uruguayan Suarez, sprinting past the Kop with a kiss of his wrist (not because of handball, no, he hasn't scored 29 of those this season) and his finger, which is greeted with cheers and smiles and another delirious rendition of I Just Can't Get Enough.
There was never any doubt of Dalglish's strength of feeling for the club, and now Suarez is forging an equally strong bond with the fans and the city.
He may one day move on, where Dalglish ended his career in Red, but between now and then Suarez will continue to be one of the strongest links between fans and players, perhaps indeed only second behind local boy Steven Gerrard, now that Jamie Carragher is to retire.
And the goals keep rolling in for Liverpool No. 7's.