KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Ask anyone to name the best ever Liverpool striker, and it is not as if they will be lacking for choice as they bid to answer the question.
Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler—all have become Kop legends for their goalscoring feats in the Anfield club’s famous red strip.
Rush might lead the all-time charts with 346 goals, and Dalglish might remain an icon at the club for what he achieved as both a player and a manager, but, having played alongside Fowler for six years, you might expect Steve McManaman to back the former England international’s claim to that accolade.
Speaking at the Laureus Unity Cup, McManaman told reporters: “[Is Suarez] better than the Growler? Well he’s going to break his record isn’t he, and the fact he missed the first five [league] games of the season suggests he’s going to go down in Liverpool history.
“If he takes Liverpool to the league title then I think everybody will say he is the greatest centre forward ever.”
McManaman added: “But Liverpool have been blessed with some great centre forwards. You quickly forget because we are in the present, but the fact that you are even talking about Suarez in the same breath of Robbie or Rushie or Kenny shows how much he has learned at Liverpool and how much has he improved.
“He had a great year last year, and he has gone on and improved on it playing less games, which is incredible.”
This season has been remarkable for the 27-year-old, especially considering how it started. Still to complete six games of the 10-match ban he received for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic last season, Suarez was also the subject of a controversial £40 million (and one pound) bid from Arsenal in the summer—interest he initially appeared keen to pursue.
Yet, 28 league goals later, McManaman believes the questions about Suarez’s future can now be put to bed.
I think he will stay anyway, the fact that he signed a new contract.
Listen, it’s important for players to play in the Champions League every week, that is the overriding factor. You want to test yourself against the best. Liverpool are on that right track.
If Liverpool suddenly finish sixth then there will be question marks, but if Liverpool win the league or finish in the Champions League I don’t think there will be any assumption about whether he stays or goes.
He’s signed a new contract and it is now up to Liverpool whether or not they sell him.
Four points behind league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, Suarez’s exploits have also helped catapult Liverpool into the title race.
Against all expectations, could they win the 20th league crown that would pull them back on terms with Manchester United?
“Course they can do it, can’t they?” McManaman said. “Winning the league would be incredible."
“It’s just that everybody expects, with the strength of the squad and the fact that Chelsea and Manchester City have real strength in depth, everybody’s expecting Liverpool to fall away—like everybody was expecting with Arsenal to during March.”
“But suddenly they went away to Old Trafford and won [3-0], and got to Cardiff and won [6-3], and everybody’s starting to think they are quietly chipping away. It would be great if they did but it is going to be really hard. Man City at Anfield, Chelsea at Anfield, it’s going to be difficult.”
Nevertheless, McManaman is at pains to point out that even finishing third should constitute an impressive achievement for the club.
“Anybody who has been involved with Liverpool, or who is a fan of Liverpool, didn’t expect miracles this year,” he said. “[They] weren’t expecting a jump from seventh last year, 20 points behind Utd, to winning the league in one progression.
“But we’ve had it in bucketloads this year and if Liverpool qualify for the Champions League and don’t have that qualifying game because they finished third or second, that’s great.”
Suarez’s recent contract extension may have McManaman confident that he will remain at Anfield for the foreseeable future, but the other man most regularly credited with the club’s resurgence is still to commit his own long-term future.
Brendan Rodgers is still to sign an extension to the three-year deal he signed at the Anfield club two seasons ago, but McManaman is confident that is just a formality, one that will be concluded once the important business of the Premier League run-in is concluded.
“I think Brendan wants to stay, they’ll probably deal with contracts at the end of the season,” he noted. “I don’t think they need to necessarily go into it now when there are six weeks of the season left.
“It probably just infuriates Brendan—whether it’s a player or the manager he will want to leave contracts to the end of the season. The main focus is to get Liverpool to the top of the league and into the Champions League.”
His work as a BT Sport pundit may keep McManaman busy, but he likes to get involved with charitable projects where possible to. As an ambassador for Laureus, whose World Sport Awards take place in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, McManaman laced up the boots once more for the Unity Cup—a game involving former stars like himself, Michael Laudrup and Michel Salgado, playing alongside young players from the local area.
The event also saw the legends offer coaching to the kids—with the camaraderie obvious even if some players (Laudrup, for example), seemed to remain desperate to win.
McManaman, in contrast, was simply happy to get through the game without picking up an injury.
"They body's okay, it's okay," McManaman said. "Any time you can see any of your old Laureus pals then that’s nice."
Then came the questions about Liverpool, but the ex-Real Madrid player is more than happy to talk at length about the club in its current state.
"It’s easy to talk about Liverpool at the moment because they are exciting, they are scoring goals, they are letting goals in," he said.
"They are really playing good football and that’s great to see."