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Feb 3, 2011

Stage is set for Suarez show

He was the second most lucrative signing paraded by Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish this week, yet Luis Suarez may just turn out to be the natural successor to Fernando Torres at Anfield.

While it would have been easy to overlook Suarez's capture amid the excitement created by Andy Carroll's £35 million arrival at Anfield last Monday, Liverpool's £22.8 million investment in Suarez could turn out to be the more shrewd deal as this proven international superstar comes with a more reliable guarantee than the raw Geordie, who still has so much to prove.

The hero and villain of Uruguay's run to the World Cup semi-finals last summer, Suarez secured a place in football infamy when his handball denied Ghana a place in the last four of the game's most prestigious competition and now, at the age of 24, the moment has come for the player who has long been linked with a move to one of Europe's elite clubs to confirm his worth.

"I know there are people who doubt I can be a success in one of the top leagues, but this is an opportunity for me to show what I can do at one of the very biggest clubs in the world," Suarez says, having hit the target on his debut against Stoke on Wednesday night. "My aim is to score at the same rate as I did with Ajax, but maybe that will not be so easy in this tough Premier League.

"This is the right moment in my career to play at the next level. My time at Ajax was perfect in so many ways and I will always owe the club so much for giving me a chance to move my game forward, but Liverpool is something special. To score in front of the famous Kop and to be given the No. 7 shirt so many legends have worn is incredible for me."

Even though his strike record of 81 goals from 110 games in Ajax colours confirmed Suarez was a class above the rest in the Dutch top-flight in recent years, this is a league that has a habit of spawning free-scoring stars who struggle to convert that form to the more competitive leagues around Europe.

Mateja Kezman, Afonso Alves and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are among those who tried and failed to convert their prolificacy in the Netherlands to more prominent stages, yet Suarez's international heroics suggest he has the class to step up and become a star at Liverpool.

Suarez has been saying all the right things in his first English interviews this week as he has portrayed himself as a model professional, but he boasted a reputation as a bad boy during his time in Dutch football, with his final imprint on the Eredivisie so much more infamous than glorious.

It is something of a tragedy that Suarez's last notable contribution to the Ajax cause were the teeth marks he left in the upper torso of Otman Bakkal after he bit into the flesh of the PSV Eindhoven winger in an angry exchange last November, though this livewire striker's brilliance has a tendency to be tarnished by his touch of devilment.

It remains to be seen whether the controversy he struggles to avoid will be left behind as fall-outs with his coaches, his reputation for taking a tumble to win penalties, that World Cup handball and his biting antics serve to cement his reputation as something of a difficult character, but he insists such a tag is undeserved.

"I'm still questioned about what happened as the World Cup quarter-final and all I would ask any player or reporter is whether they would have done the same thing," says the striker who was sent off on his international debut for Uruguay back in 2007. "It was an instinctive reaction and there was no option for me other than to do it. I paid a heavy price personally as I was suspended for the semi-final, but my team-mates were able to continue their dream.

"In a way, I'm disappointed that nobody remembers my performances at the World Cup and the only comment in the paper was the handball. This was a little sad, but it seems that everyone is keen to find something to be critical about.

"I said at the time and I repeat now that it is far worse for a player to kick an opponent when he is about to score a goal or to try to hurt him to stop his game. That happened to me a lot in the Ghana game and every time I play, but this is never the focus.

"As for the biting incident with Bakkal, this was a mistake on my part. His behaviour on the day was also disappointing, but I was the captain of Ajax and this was not acceptable. We all lose our composure at times, though I accept what I did was not the right response."

The Suarez story falls neatly into the 'rags to riches' box as his household was hardly laden with luxury: he and his six siblings struggled to make ends meet under the watch of a single mother who lacked the financial support she needed to cope with such a substantial family.

However, with his brother Paulo enjoying a career in professional football back in South America and young Luis flying the flag and earning his millions in Europe, this is one family that has been saved by the beautiful game.

His successes are all the more remarkable when you consider his youth-team coach warned him his career as a footballer would not leave first base unless he changed the party lifestyle that was leading him astray in his teenage years, but he heeded that invaluable advice and has hardly looked back since.

He will need to address his indifferent disciplinary record before crossing swords with Premier League referees, yet a maturing Suarez may well have time his move to Liverpool perfectly as he has finds himself at a massive club desperate for a saviour after troubled times.

"This is the biggest chance to show what I can do at a major club and I will not let it pass by me," he adds. "My life when I was growing up was never easy and I appreciate that everything that is happening for me now. Football has given so much to my whole family and I will not take anything for granted now that I have arrived at Liverpool."

Brilliant, thrilling and occasionally flawed, the latest episodes in the Luis Suarez story should be fascinating to follow.

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