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Aug 8, 2013

A tale of two forwards

If a footballer is only worth what anyone is prepared to pay for him then Luis Suarez's current value is £40,000,001, the highest bid posted to date. If it is determined by his manager, then it is in record-breaking territory.

"Gareth Bale has been valued in nine figures," Brendan Rodgers has said. "I thought Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez were the two best players in the Premier League last season. You can't say Gareth Bale is worth 100% more than Luis Suarez."

And yet the marker was laid down the day the Uruguayan arrived at Anfield. As he entered, Fernando Torres exited, Chelsea depositing £50 million in Liverpool's bank account, even as 70% of it was swiftly dispatched to Newcastle in return for Andy Carroll's services.

The Suarez of 2013 is superior to the ever-slowing Torres of January 2011, and so the argument goes that if the Spaniard cost £50 million then, the South American must be worth at least £55 million now.

There is a winning simplicity to the logic, even if the reality is that every transfer has its own unique factors - Roman Abramovich's desperation to sign Torres, for instance, and Suarez's history of incurring lengthy suspensions - which can affect the fee.

Yet they make for a compelling comparison, this pair of forwards who first enchanted and then alienated the Anfield faithful. Earlier this year, Steven Gerrard described Suarez as the third best footballer on the planet, behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Torres was actually voted onto the podium in both the 2008 Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year polls, along with the Portuguese and the Argentine.

When Suarez scored his 30th goal of last season -- a feat that was obscured by his bite on Branislav Ivanovic in the same match -- he became the first Liverpool player to reach that landmark since Torres five years earlier. That was his golden year, the time when the notion of Torres as a £50 million footballer seemed entirely realistic.

As Suarez's haul came in an inferior team, while recording more assists and while exerting a greater influence all over the pitch than Torres, any appraisal could be concluded quickly. Case closed: the modern-day Suarez is better than the Torres of 2008. Right?

Not necessarily. Yes, Suarez's capacity to roam far and wide and his willingness to dribble at defenders almost anywhere gives him a dimension Torres lacks. He is a better outlet for a lesser side because of his prominence and his resourcefulness; he scarcely needs service to instigate an attack.

Yet if Torres was content to operate on the fringes of the game, lingering ominously on the shoulder of the last defender, the specialist scorer was also much the more clinical. His 33 club goals in the 2007-08 campaign came from 129 attempts whereas Suarez's 30 were the product of 213 shots. One averaged better than a goal every four efforts, the other just worse than one every seven. The Uruguayan was likelier to strike in spectacular fashion, but if he is the scorer of great goals, Torres was the great goalscorer.

Mocking him is a national pastime now, but it is easy to forget how devastatingly good he was. There were times when he accelerated away when everyone, team-mates, opponents and spectators alike, knew the ball would end up in the net. While Suarez's shooting is less wayward than it was in 2011-12, there remains an element of doubt when he goes clear.

Consider, too, that Torres' goals came in a better division -- perhaps they have been devalued a little as standards have declined over the subsequent five years -- and in the knockout stages of the Champions League, where he scored against Internazionale, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The final factor is that while Torres, even at his blistering peak, was a more limited player, he also suited the side and the system. Rafa Benitez's counter-attacking gameplan was based on Torres' pace and the penetrative passing of Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. In contrast, Suarez represents solution and problem alike for a strategist like Rodgers. He is not so much a No. 10 or a lone striker or a raiding winger as much as simply Luis Suarez, playing his way. There is a school of thought that Liverpool will be tactically better without their outstanding individual.

He is unique, whereas Torres, in his electric speed and ice-cool finishing, had echoes of Michael Owen. In the Premier League era, Liverpool have had four genuinely outstanding strikers: the homegrown pair of Robbie Fowler and Owen and the expensive imports, Torres and Suarez. First and last were briefly partners on Saturday when a semi-retired and overweight Fowler joined Suarez in attack for the end of Gerrard's testimonial against Olympiakos. Perhaps the final sighting of the Uruguayan in a Liverpool shirt came alongside a prolific forward who never wanted to leave, the loyalist and the loose cannon briefly together.

It prompted the question of how, should footballing time travel suddenly become possible, they would fare together at their deadliest. The reality, though, is that when considering their finest forwards, Liverpool have long had to look into their past. And while Torres and Suarez are opposites in much they do, there are grounds to rank the £50 million man above his successor.

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