Things are finally heating up on Merseyside. Liverpool, a club known for its stringent transfer policy over the past few years, could be set for a shake-up. New owner John W. Henry may have left it late, but two proposed January transfers could be set to change the course of the struggling Reds’ season, for better or worse.
Luis Suárez has been on Liverpool’s radar for a while. His name has been continually linked with the club since the January window opened. Having had a “disrespectful” £12.7m bid rejected earlier in the window, an improved offer of a reported £23m was accepted yesterday by Ajax, Suárez’s Dutch employers.
Some may balk at the fee, but Suárez’s talents are considerable. The Uruguayan lit up last summer’s World Cup with three goals until a deliberate handball sullied his performance at the tournament. He can play anywhere across the front line, and it’s hard to argue with his 81 goals in 108 league games for Ajax.
The 24-year-old would bring much-needed spark to Liverpool’s plodding XI, and his link play and ingenuity would add another dimension to a team that’s far too reliant on its superstars. The likes of David Ngog are forced to step in when Torres and Gerrard are unavailable. This is a squad badly lacking in depth.
While the potential acquisition of Suárez may excite ‘Pool fans, their enthusiasm will be short-lived if the club sell their prized asset. Rumours of his departure have swirled since a lacklustre World Cup campaign, but yesterday’s transfer request from the Spaniard made his intentions clear. Fernando Torres wants out.
It remains to be seen whether or not Chelsea will follow up yesterday’s rejected £35-40m bid, but it’s hard to blame Torres for wanting to leave. As patchy as his performances this season have been, Torres remains one of world football’s greatest strikers. Unplayable on his day and lethal in front of goal, Torres made a seamless transition from La Liga to the Premiership in 2007 and has flourished since. His biggest contribution this season came ironically against his Stamford Bridge suitors, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over the Blues in Liverpool's best Hodgson-era performance.
Injuries have hampered his past two seasons, but with 81 goals in 141 appearances, Torres is, alongside Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s most important player. He has become a heroic figure to the fans, and his loss could be potentially devastating. Would Suárez’s signing soften the blow? It’s debatable.
Suárez is undoubtedly an excellent player, but a number of doubts linger over this move. There is a long list of strikers who have excelled in the Eredivisie only to move abroad and struggle. English fans will remember Mateja Kezman and Alfonso Alves, but Liverpool’s own Dirk Kuyt is perhaps the most pertinent example.
Once a prodigious striker with a record comparable to Suárez’s, Kuyt has struggled for goals since arriving on Merseyside. He has now transitioned to a role on the right wing and his workmanlike performances have won him many fans, but he has not been the predator he was at Feyenoord and Utrecht. Admittedly the hard-working, industrious Kuyt is a vastly different player to Suárez, but Dutch league strikers do not typically thrive in the Premier League (Denis Bergkamp and Ruud van Nistelrooy aside).
The player’s temperament is also questionable. Suárez first gained notoriety for the aforementioned World Cup handball incident, and in November 2010 he was served a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal’s shoulder. Is that the kind of personality that Liverpool want leading their line?
While Torres and Suárez are comparable in terms of technique, their roles are quite different. Suárez may be a talented front-line player with a well-rounded set of attributes, but Torres is the complete centre forward. Though not as versatile as the Uruguayan, Torres’ striking attributes are far more pronounced. He has been highly effective at slotting into Liverpool’s system even when the rest of the team have been struggling. Less of an out-and-out striker than Torres, there is no guarantee that Suárez (a player more focused on link-up play) would be anywhere near as successful as the Spaniard.
Of course, the ideal scenario for Liverpool is that Suárez signs and Torres resolves his differences and decides to say. A fit and functioning Suárez/Torres tandem would make Liverpool one of the most dangerous attacking forces in Europe, but this situation seems unlikely.
It’s clear that Torres is unhappy at the club, and his form is only likely to decline further if he doesn’t move in January. Barring a major change of heart from the Spaniard, I would be very surprised if he’s still a Liverpool player by the end of the summer window.
Liverpool are no doubt hopeful that rejecting Torres’ transfer request might make him reconsider, and Kenny Dalglish is no doubt salivating at potentially being able to pick the Spaniard and Suárez in the same side. But the odds are against him. Suárez is not quite of Torres’ calibre, and Torres’ form is unlikely to improve while he is unhappy. Dalglish, Ford, and co. find themselves in a difficult situation. Replacing Fernando Torres with Luis Suárez is a backwards step, but it’s one they might just have to take.