Saturday, 29 October 2011

craft 'n' graft

SINCE Luis Suarez first pulled on a red shirt it is hard to recall a game when he did not do something eye-catching. Be it a stupendous goal – a la Stoke in midweek – a piece of audacious skill or a thrilling dribble, the Uruguayan is one of a rare breed of once in a generation footballers whose talent alone is worth the price of a ticket.
Suarez regularly does the kind of things that are so often practiced but so rarely deployed in the high intensity of a match situation. Nutmegs are a part of his repertoire in the same way that simple five yard passes sideways are the stock in trade of more limited, less imaginative players. He has succeeded in making the unusual usual and the time has long since passed when the Anfield crowd was surprised to see him wriggle through defenders like quicksilver. The shock now only comes when he yields the ball to an opponent, so high has he managed to raise expectations since his arrival from Ajax.
Liverpool have had many special players over the years but the last one who raised the bar this high was probably John Barnes. In his pomp, the wing wizard would come up against a full back and invariably dance past him, leaving the defender trailing in his wake before racing towards the box to either have a shot on goal or create a chance for a team mate. Between 1987 and 1989, the sight of Barnes making mugs of opponents was as regular an occurrence as sightings of Kenny Dalglish wearing his trademark manager’s coat.
Since then, Liverpool have had their fair share of twinkle toed players – Steve McManaman being the most obvious example – who have endeavoured, with varying levels of success, to emulate the legendary Jamaican winger. But Suarez is undoubtedly the most talented, daring and exciting dribbler since Barnes, as his first goal against Stoke in midweek, a breathtaking nutmeg followed by a stunning, curling finish, demonstrated.
There are numerous qualities that combine to make Suarez the brilliant player that he is. Imagination, talent, bravery, vision – he is an identikit of the old style Liverpool number seven, a shirt which Dalglish, of course, wore with such distinction but which has weighed heavy on the shoulders of many of those who have donned it since. But for me, the thing that sets the 24-year-old apart more than anything else is his desire.
Rarely in professional football does a player emerge with the ability of a superstar and the unquestioning, ever-willing work rate of an amateur playing for the love of the game. Suarez has that mixture and he has it in abundance. That is why he is able to turn causes that are seemingly lost into genuine opportunities and why no defender can ever rest easy when he is so much as in their vicinity.
To appreciate just how important Suarez’s industry is, one only needs to think back to twelve months ago when another forward blessed with supreme talent was struggling to showcase his ability simply because his desire had diminished. Fernando Torres was another heir to Barnes’ throne but by last season, for whatever reason, he had lost his mojo and the ability that everyone knew he had became locked inside because of some sort of gradual psychological detachment from the club he had previously given everything for.
Without his usual levels of effort and energy, Torres became a much more standard centre forward. At times, the quality of his finishing took him out of an obvious malaise but more often than not it seemed as if he was unable or unwilling to work his way out of the rut that he found himself in and he became a pale shadow of the player who had terrorised defenders in previous seasons.
Torres would contend that he had his desire beaten out of him by the failings of the club at the time, while his critics would argue that he simply lost his way to such an extent that he ended up falling out of love with Liverpool. That debate will go on for many years but what is without question is that his fall from grace last season illustrated the consequences of a player losing his desire and it should make us appreciate even more an individual whose determination to make a difference for his team goes beyond the norm.
Suarez displays this admirable trait in every single game, chasing balls into corners, harrying defenders, getting kicked from pillar to post and coming back for more and generally being an out an out nuisance. If someone kicked a ball into the street where he lives you could imagine him being the first one to get hold of it, holding off any of his neighbours who thought they could get there before him. His appetite is insatiable, something Kenny Dalglish puts down to the hard yards that Suarez put in to make his way to the top of his profession.
“I don’t think it has come to easy for him to become a professional footballer,” Dalglish said. “He came over from Uruguay to Holland as an 18-year-old. He was away from home, so I don’t think it has been too easy for him. He has worked really hard to get to where he is so fully appreciates it and does not take anything for granted. Maybe that is why he has got his attitude, which is very, very refreshing.”
There are plenty of players who come in to football with that kind of attitude but not too many still have it, not to the same extent anyway, when they are fully fledged professionals. Fewer still have it when they are full internationals at the top of their trade who earn the kind of money which could weaken the desire of even the most dedicated individuals.
 It is to Suarez’s great credit that his desire remains as strong as it did when he was a kid playing football on the streets of Montevideo and it is to Liverpool’s great benefit that it does. Luis Suarez is a special footballer but it is his rare work rate as much as his rare talent that makes him the magnificent player that he is.

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