The calendar sometimes compels us to do things before we’re ready to do them.
Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona for £75 million ($125 million) this summer. It was probably the right time for the Reds to cash in on the Uruguayan goal-machine.
As the 2014-15 Premier League season starts, the soccer world wants to know how well Liverpool has done to replace its departed talisman. The timing of that question could be better. After all, we’re only one game into the new season, and we can’t draw firm conclusions yet.
It’s hard for any team in any sport to lose its top player and improve simultaneously. The departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale demonstrate how difficult it is for a team even to maintain its pre-sale position in the league.
Suarez was Liverpool’s best player in recent seasons. He scored 69 goals in 110 Premier League games between 2011 and 2014 and shined brightest last season when he scored 31 goals in 33 games (plus 12 assists), sweeping England’s major Player of the Year awards in the process.
Liverpool lost an icon, a scorer of big and important goals, a player who performs well in almost every game and arguably plays even better in practice.
It’s almost impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for this type of player. Only a handful of them exist in world soccer at any given moment, and Liverpool intelligently looked to build up the areas around the void Suarez’s departure created rather than trying to fill it outright. Liverpool has spent more than £100 million ($167 million) on eight new players since the end of last season. The additions strengthen the Reds’ squad ahead of a campaign in which they will compete in four competitions and look to win at least one of them.
Aside from the tangible club-record transfer fee, the Reds also gained things that are hard to quantify. Suarez brought controversy, as everyone knows, and the recurring distractions his mistakes created are a thing of the past. Suarez’s teammates at Liverpool often deferred to the Uruguayan, hoping that he would lead them through tough moments or rescue results with magic that only he could conjure at will. Suarez’s departure gives the new and returning Reds — particularly Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling — a greater chance to assert themselves, demonstrate their own personalities and stamp their influences on games.
Suarez was one of the remaining pillars of the pre-Rodgers regime of former manager Kenny Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli. Suarez was the Reds’ highest-paid player and his departure frees up financial resources, which Rodgers can allocate elsewhere. The 2014-15 campaign is Rodgers’ third at the helm of the ship sometimes called “HMS Liverpool,” and the Reds increasingly are becoming his team with each passing transfer window.
The players that remain at Liverpool are there because Rodgers believes in their ability to contribute to the Reds’ challenges for honors on multiple fronts. Liverpool undoubtedly bristled at accusations that it was overly dependent on Suarez or whispers that it was a “one-man team” in 2013-14. This season gives Liverpool a chance to show whether those claims were true or if Rodgers’ philosophy and the team itself is the actual star, as the manager has said in recent months.
Selling Suarez wasn’t necessarily a net loss for Liverpool. As for how well Liverpool replaced Suarez in the offseason, I’ll freely admit that I don’t really know. It’s too soon to answer the question with any conviction. We’ll have to wait until Rodgers signs another top-level striker.