Farewell, Suarez: Now someone else's problem
"The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long," said Lao Tzu, and it is a perfect quote for the Liverpool careers of both Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez.
Chinese philosophy is not really my forte. I actually heard that quote first in "Blade Runner," but when it comes to goal scorers in red I know a bit more. The journey from initial ignorance to admiration, to worship and devotion and finally farewell, with the occasional betrayal thrown in, has now been shrunk into a mere three and a half seasons. That's less than a quarter of Ian Rush's playing career at Anfield. How times change.
As soon as Suarez's teeth sank into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini last month the writing was on the wall. It had been there for a while, in truth, since the last two summers have generally featured some sort of departure story. Had it not been for a conveniently vague contract stipulation and some admirable obstinacy from Liverpool's owner John Henry, he might have left last year.
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Fans pretended that a new contract might have meant that Suarez had decided to make Liverpool his permanent home -- but most knew it merely made the escape clause a non-negotiable, cast-iron certainty.
The last two seasons have seen a goal avalanche. Before that he had often seemed brilliant without the end product to match. It's hard to shake off the feeling now that it was all one big Spanish job application, entirely disconnected to the club's needs and ambitions, solely for the purpose of getting Suarez exactly where he wanted to be -- someplace else.
Of course his time in England has been fraught with controversy and there are those who will understand fully why he no longer wanted to stay. When the Spanish giants come a-calling, few resist anyway. Liverpool had arguably the second-best central midfield in Europe in 2009 and within a year, both Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano had left for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. As soon as Suarez added goals to his trickery, the countdown began.
Outsiders were confused as to why Liverpool fans stood by Suarez throughout everything, glibly regarding it as the usual myopic bias that afflicts supporters. Let no one pretend they are any different about their club or its own malcontents. It is illuminating to look back and see just how dejected Reds were at the time Suarez joined in 2011.
It is true that there were new owners and the club's slide into administration had been halted, but Roy Hodgson had already been ousted for very poor performances and the revered Torres wanted away because he saw absolutely no future at Anfield whatsoever. He wasn't the only one.
LUIS SUAREZ 2013-14 SEASON IN NUMBERS
• 31 - Premier League goals, winning the Golden Boot.
• 12 - Most assists in the Premier League.
• 24 - Scored the most goals from inside the box.
• 4 - Scored the most goals from counterattacks.
• 9 - Had the most shots that hit the woodwork.
• 3 - Most penalties won in the Premier League.
• 237 - Attempted more dribbles than any other player.
The Uruguayan had scored goals in the Eredivisie, but that wasn't going to cut any ice in England. Dirk Kuyt had been fruitful in his native league but was found wanting as a striker at Liverpool, forced instead into a role as a combative midfielder who chipped in with a few goals. What was Suarez going to deliver that Kuyt couldn't? It didn't take him long to show exactly what he could do.
There was a recovery of sorts under Kenny Dalglish but there was no doubting who was at the core of it all. Suarez absolutely destroyed Manchester United during a win that saw Kuyt score a hat trick, and one remarkable night at Fulham had supporters purring about this genuinely world-class talent that had dropped into their laps. Fortune had smiled on Anfield once more.
The following season was marred by controversy, but football's remarkable myopia where great talent is concerned kicked in again. Given that England's John Terry stood accused of the same offence as Suarez, he continued to be demonised without there ever being a realistic chance that he would be ostracised from the English game.
Suarez began to score more freely under Brendan Rodgers but when all seemed forgotten, if not entirely forgiven, he bit Branislav Ivanovic and all hell broke loose -- again.
Liverpool supporters, by now instinctively and habitually blotting out the rest of the shrieking world, sighed and got on with it. A desire to join Arsenal of all places did shock many but in truth it was all just part of the Suarez soap opera. Let the whole world froth at the mouth if it wanted to. This was the price you paid for watching a genius at work. Ideal? Of course not, but the thought of a season without him proved even more unpleasant.
Last season demonstrated what can be achieved when a genuine talent is surrounded by others with real quality. It'll be seen as a desperate clutching of straws but Liverpool managed 101 league goals, yet 70 of those were scored by non-Uruguayans. Suarez will not be leaving the club in anything like the same state it was in when Torres deserted.
That's not to say that everyone will give him their blessing; far from it. There will be those who will see it as remarkably manipulative, that the World Cup bite has been so cynically exploited, and if FIFA reduce his club punishment on arrival at the Camp Nou it will leave a very bitter aftertaste indeed.
But eventually he'll be forgiven. He was always forgiven, like it or loathe it. In a way it's a relief that supporters can no longer argue about the pros and cons of keeping Suarez, the damage to the club's reputation or whether he's worth the trouble. He's gone, end of story. That means completely different discussions. What to do with the money, can the back four improve, making sure Daniel Sturridge is supplied with chances and can keep his own incredible record going, how to keep improving Raheem Sterling and so on.
The news will still eke through from La Liga. It'll be fascinating to see whether Suarez can emerge from the rather large shadows of Lionel Messi and Neymar, of course, but for now that's none of Liverpool's concern. He'll not be demonised like Torres was, even if Barcelona's more recent behaviour has helped make that "mes que un club" motto an overripe joke. That still doesn't make them Chelsea.
Luis Suarez is now somebody else's problem. Would many Liverpool fans still welcome that gigantic pain in the backside if it were even possible for him to change his mind and stay?
In a heartbeat.