Luis Suarez sparked the imaginations of Liverpool supporters at the end of January, telling ESPN (h/t the Press Association via the Guardian) that if he were to make a triumphant return to the Premier League, it would only be to turn out for the Anfield club. However, Reds fans should not get their hopes up just yet.
"You never know what will happen in the future. If I was to return to England, it would be to play for Liverpool—not for any other team," the Uruguayan forward professed.
"I have missed the fans. The atmosphere [at Anfield] is incredible, it’s incredible. Everyone that has played for Liverpool knows how important the supporters are. They know that they are in my heart."
The prospect of Suarez returning to Anfield in a playing capacity is a mouth-watering one for anyone associated with Liverpool, as over a three-and-a-half-year spell he established himself as a true icon in the club's history—inspiring the Reds' unexpected title charge under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14.
But having joined Barcelona in a deal worth £75 million in 2014, this may be a notion too entrenched in fantasy, and Liverpool should not have their head turned by talk a possible reunion with their former No. 7.
When Liverpool signed Suarez from Ajax at the end of the January transfer window in 2011, they knew they were acquiring a talent; but it is unlikely that they envisaged the impact the forward would have on the club, and the Premier League.
Scoring on his debut, 16 minutes after replacing Fabio Aurelio in a home clash against Stoke City, Suarez started as he meant to go on.
However, regularly paired with the off-colour Andy Carroll, his quality wasn't truly able to shine through until the 2012/13 season—his first under Rodgers. The Irishman built his attack around Suarez, and he reaped the benefits.
Over three-and-a-half years with the club, Suarez scored 82 goals and registered 53 assists in 133 appearances, including a remarkable tally of 31 goals in 33 league games in 2013/14, as Liverpool fell at the final hurdle in a sensational title challenge.
Though his time on Merseyside was marred with controversy, he is widely considered one of the greatest players to have played for the club—an opinion shared by former Reds captain Steven Gerrard.
Speaking to Barcelona's official website ahead of the Catalan club's pre-season clash with his current side, Los Angeles Galaxy, last summer, Gerrard hailed him—along with another former Red, Javier Mascherano—as an invaluable team-mate and a close friend:
I don’t think anyone ever looks forward to playing against Luis Suarez, he is a fantastic talent and a very dangerous player.
He is a good friend of mine, someone I enjoyed playing with and the same for Mascherano.
[Suarez] is a fantastic team-mate, probably the best player I have played with.
He’s good guy, a family man away from the pitch, we keep in touch and keep supporting each other throughout our careers, so yes, he is a good friend of mine.
Suarez scored in that game, a 2-1 win to Barcelona, continuing his fine form with the La Liga giants.
The Uruguayan has gone from strength to strength at the Camp Nou, scoring 25 goals and assisting a further 24 in 43 appearances in 2014/15, including a strike in June's Champions League final win over Juventus, while this season he looks set to breach the 50-goal mark in all competitions.
He is part of one of the greatest attacking trios in footballing history, and if it were not for two other pre-eminent talents standing in his way in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he would likely be considered the greatest player of his generation.
Suarez would be welcomed back to Anfield with unprecedented fanfare. But despite his flattering comments, he remains unlikely to rejoin the Reds at any stage in his career.
Why a Return is Unlikely
Suarez turned 29 towards the end of January, and while he is yet to show signs of wear and tear despite his all-action style in leading the line, it is unavoidable that age will creep up on the former FC Groningen man over the coming seasons.
It was far from a risk, but the £75 million sanctioned to secure the services of Suarez in 2014 came with an important caveat for Barcelona: They were signing a player at his peak, and with little sell-on value above that figure.
The footballing world will hope that the scintillating trio of Suarez, Messi and Neymar can continue to operate for as long as possible, but if they are to disband, it will be due to Suarez's departure.
Even past his peak, Premier League clubs will be lining up to take a punt on the Uruguay international.
But it remains doubtful that he would entertain a return to English shores due to one key factor, as he told beIN SPORTS (h/t the Liverpool Echo) in March of last year, after he was rumoured to have bitten Manchester City's Martin Demichelis in a Champions League clash at the Etihad Stadium:
I don’t know if there is a campaign of the English press towards me, but it can be seen that they miss me. They criticise me so much that they look for something that is not there to draw attention.
They published images of me [next to Demichelis] in the morning and when they saw that that was false those images disappeared off the pages. I said enough and that they leave me alone and that I went because I was tired of them, but yet they are still looking [for me].
I am very happy at Barca, I fulfilled a dream to play at the best club in the world and now I am enjoying it. I am contributing things to the team and that leaves me calmer and makes me feel important.
His assertion that life away from the hounding, parasitic English press has made him "calmer," after growing "tired" of their constant attention during his time at Liverpool, is a crucial one. Suarez is a wholehearted, emotional footballer, and it is no coincidence that he is enjoying further success at Barcelona.
To return to England would be to subject himself to insurmountable scrutiny once more, and for this reason, it seems impossible for Liverpool to engineer a reunion in the future.
Instead, they should take a more realistic focus and concentrate their efforts on a talent currently in Jurgen Klopp's squad.
A Realistic Focus
When Sunderland defender Billy Jones picked up the ball on right flank 69 minutes into the Black Cats' 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, Roberto Firmino sprung into action.
Taking advantage of a dawdling Jones, Firmino quickly closed down the former West Bromwich Albion man, blocked his attempted clearance and surged towards the Sunderland penalty area, showing a selfless edge by squaring the ball to Adam Lallana to fire home Liverpool's second goal of the afternoon.
It was a moment of hugely encouraging quality from the Brazilian, and a move eerily reminiscent of the tenacious, front-footed forward play of Suarez.
This saw Firmino add an assist to his record for the season, after heading James Milner's inch-perfect cross to put the Reds 1-0 up shortly after half-time, and he has now scored six times and assisted on a further seven goals in 30 appearances for the club.
Incredibly, all six goals and five of those assists have come in 10 games as a centre-forward, having been deployed as a lone striker for much of 2016 following injuries to Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings and Divock Origi, and the continued poor form of Christian Benteke.
That Liverpool let a two-goal lead slip in the final 10 minutes of Saturday's league outing undermined Firmino's brilliance, after he produced an excellent all-round display that highlighted just why the Reds were keen to secure his signing last summer, paying Hoffenheim up to £29 million to do so.
This was the latest in a string of top-level performances from Firmino in the No. 9 role, and while his output is yet to match that of Suarez at Anfield, he is showing signs of similar importance to Klopp's squad.
At 24 years old, Firmino has considerable scope for development at Liverpool, and he looks set to become a star in the Premier League—it is important to consider that much of his recent heroics have come without the support of two of Klopp's key attackers, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
Five years Suarez's junior, Firmino is the future at Liverpool, and while a return to Merseyside would see the Uruguayan idolised, Klopp and the Reds would be better off building around their new leading man.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.
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