Will he stay, or will he go? That is the question on everyone's lips at Anfield
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was forced to spend the majority of his pre-match press conference on Friday dedicated to looking ahead to Sunday’s Premier League trip to Aston Villa, insisting (via Sky Sports) that striker Luis Suarez would not be leaving Anfield this summer.
It was not the first time that the Northern Irishman has had to reiterate such a message this season, and it most certainly will not be the last.
Of course, this latest round of "will he, won’t he" speculation concerning the attacker’s Liverpool future was actually sparked by the man himself. It began after Suarez gave a TV interview (via AFP) while back home in Uruguay preparing for his country’s World Cup qualifying double header against Paraguay and Chile.
And while the 26-year-old did declare: “I am very happy at Liverpool, I’m in a world-class team, an elite team like Liverpool. We have to realise we have a new manager who is imposing a philosophy and a way of playing that the players are adapting to as best we can. We hope that it will bear fruit next year.”
Suarez also ended the interview with these more ominous words as far as all those connected with Liverpool Football Club are concerned: “But if another team comes around with more prospects of competing in international club competition games, which is willing to have me, they are welcome. We would talk to the club, we would see if I want to go, if I don’t want to go.”
As is the way in modern football these days, it did not take long before Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre was crying foul, claiming on BBC Radio 5 Live that the Uruguayan’s quotes had been “lost in translation” and that the front man would “see his contract through.”
Ayre then went on to add: "We've been consistent with Luis. Last summer he signed a new four-year contract and we have no desire to sell Luis. He is a fantastic player and a great contributor to our team.
“We've been very honest with him and he's been very honest with us.
"There is always going to be instances, particularly leading up to the summer window, when people are quoted or asked these questions.”
However, unfortunately for Liverpool and their supporters, the unpalatable truth now is that this is the situation in which they find themselves in after three straight years without Champions League football.
The once mighty Reds, like all Premier League clubs apart from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in fairness to the Merseysiders, are there to have their star performers picked off by richer, more successful predators.
That is the way football has always operated, and always will. Liverpool know this more than most, as they used to be the predator back in the late 70s and 80s.
In fact, the club have already gone through this very same situation before with Suarez’s predecessor in attack at Anfield, Fernando Torres, who, once Liverpool started to implode under Rafa Benitez in the 2009-10 season, became the target for a number of clubs competing on a higher level than the Reds.
Now, while Liverpool wanted to keep the Spain international at Anfield, in the end a combination of his expressed desire to leave the club and the size of the offer on the table from Chelsea convinced the Reds’ new American owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), to do business with the West Londoners.
And this summer looks like being a case of deja vu for FSG and Co., as some of European football’s biggest names come calling for their mercurial forward in what will ultimately be a litmus test for owner John Henry and what exactly his ambitions for the club are.
Suarez, lest we forget, only signed a new bumper long-term deal at Liverpool last August that ties the Uruguayan to Anfield until 2018. Although contracts these days are there to protect both parties, and Reds fans would be naive to assume that this one means the player will still be on Merseyside in five years’ time, let alone in 12 months.
However, the length of Suarez’s new deal does mean, should Henry and his business partners so wish this summer, they can simply reject all offers for the player, be they for £40 million, £50 million or even £100 million, as that is their prerogative.
Will Suarez still be at Anfield next season?
And that is why I say this will be such an intriguing and revealing transfer window for those in charge of Liverpool. Make no mistake about it, big-money offers for Suarez, if they have not yet, will soon be landing in Ayre’s inbox.
In January 2011, in what was FSG’s first-ever experience of the transfer window, it was ultimately Torres’ clear and stated desire to leave the club that proved decisive in allowing the Spain striker to move to the Blues after four unforgettable years.
Suarez, in contrast, has only been a Liverpool player for just over two years, and it seems only fair that he commit himself to at least one more campaign on Merseyside to see how the team kicks on next season. This before possibly moving on to pastures new if a top-four finish, and with it Champions League qualification, cannot be reached by May 2014.
But sell the prolific marksman this summer and FSG would be sending out all the wrong messages to both the club’s fans and their rivals: That Liverpool are now a feeder club with no aspirations of returning to Europe’s top table.