Rarely has Liverpool’s Player of the Year award been this easy to judge.
There can only be a handful of occasions in the club’s history when one man and his performances have determined so much of the club’s fortunes. Liverpool haven’t hit the heights that they have enjoyed so regularly in the past during this campaign, but that isn’t for the want of Luis Suarez trying.
Perhaps playing upfront for Liverpool in the club’s current guise is tougher than at most points during the Reds’ past.
When Liverpool were winning league championships and European Cups, the quality of players in the team made the forward’s job a clear one. It wasn’t an easy one, of course, but Kevin Keegan had John Toshack by his side and Ian Rush had Kenny Dalglish.
More recently, the likes of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen had teams full of fine players built around them, whilst Fernando Torres was served chances by Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. Suarez has an older―some would say better―Gerrard to help him out, of course, but the rest of the team have reflected Liverpool’s fortunes over the past few years.
They aren’t what they were.
Dragging a team up from probable mid-table mediocrity into one capable of challenging for Europe doesn’t seem to be an altogether too exciting feat on paper, but Suarez gives Liverpool so much more than that. With him in the team, the Reds retain an air of fantasy and can continue to be feared.
Where they’d be without him probably doesn’t bear thinking about.
He has scored 29 goals this season, with his league total of 22 placing him on top of the Premier League goalscorers’ chart. He is six strikes from emulating Fowler’s club record of 28 strikes in a season since the league was revamped in 1992.
With eight games left, it would take a brave man to bet against him achieving that total, and doing so in this Reds side would only make the achievement more memorable.
Of course his teammates aren’t useless. Some of the recent additions in particular look as though they are going to improve the team hugely in the long run. But, using Torres as an example given that he was the man who last got this close to Fowler’s record with 24 strikes in 2007/08, the players around Suarez certainly aren’t as polished as the likes of Javier Mascherano, Alonso and Dirk Kuyt were.
The Uruguayan has to work a lot harder, and he seems to enjoy doing so.
Still sticking with the Torres theme, it is impossible not to think that the Spaniard’s frequent struggles at Chelsea wouldn’t have been replicated at Anfield if―as Liverpool intended―he’d gone on to play with Suarez at the club following the final day of the January 2011 transfer window.
What a partnership that would have been―except as Suarez was coming through the revolving doors at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Torres was exiting the other way.
The Chelsea man never won a trophy at Liverpool despite his obvious quality, and whilst Suarez already has one up on him due to last season’s Carling Cup success, the trophies and medals argument is certainly a key one.
Can he really be considered a Liverpool great if his trophy cabinet looks decidedly bare? Suarez, Rodgers and the Liverpool fans will hope that it doesn’t come to that for the Uruguayan, of course, but his feats surely deserve some more recognition in medal form.
The failure to provide that might eventually see the forward move elsewhere, but with all of the noises coming from him so far being positive ones, it looks as though he’ll be with the club for some time yet.
If he’s still at Liverpool come the end of next season, he’ll have been at Anfield for as long as Torres was. Whilst perhaps that will be a better time to compare Suarez with the Reds’ fine forwards of both the recent and distant past, Liverpool’s current main man is already well on the way to the status of a great.
That Player of the Year award could just be the start for him.