Do you remember picking-up teams in the school playground to play a match at lunchtime? At my junior school, Dovedale Road, Liverpool, usually two boys (one of whom owned the tennis ball we’d be playing with) would ‘pick-up’, taking turns to choose whoever they wanted to create two teams. With jackets on the ground for goalposts, we were ready to play.
Though both John Lennon and George Harrison were at the school when I first arrived, they never seemed remotely interested in football. Perhaps they were dreaming of other kinds of popular glory? But there was one really good player in the school who seemed to be a couple of million light years ahead of even the best of the rest of us.
So which team won the lunchtime match depended almost entirely on who had ‘first pick’ of the would-be players. It didn’t seem to matter who else you got in your team, you just knew that if the star boy was on your side, you’d be the ones walking back into class for the boring bit of the day with a big smile on your face. Yeeeees!
It feels a bit like this these days at Liverpool FC. The team appears to have at the moment, possibly the best striker in the world on current form; certainly in the top three. If Suarez is playing; the Reds are winning.
Even the two recent defeats away to Man City & Chelsea (where they should have got a point at least from each match if the games’ officials had been on form too) don’t really dent this feeling. Where there is Suarez, there is well-founded hope.
For good reason too. Suarez is already breaking Premier League records with ten goals in one month (and when you recall the great strikers who’ve been playing in the PL these past twenty years, that’s no mean feat – just great feet).
He’s got twenty so far in only thirteen games; in other words, he’s averaging over 1.5 goals a game; a better ratio than Dixie Dean when he got the all-time record of sixty in a season back in 1927/28. Since Suarez’s return in September, Liverpool have averaged 2.79 goals per game but when he doesn’t score it’s invariably bad news. The team has picked up only one point from the five matches that he failed to score in.
The problem is – just like with the team at Dovedale Road Juniors – Liverpool appears increasingly to be a one-man team (despite some very solid performances from members of the supporting cast).
Before Suarez served out the ban, LFC were averaging just one goal a game; that ratio almost trebled on his return. But everyone knows Suarez can’t go on scoring like this indefinitely – and his incredibly robust physical frame cannot be immune to injury.
One-man teams in the Premier League – unlike in the schoolyard – won’t last the arduous course of an English season.
After the ‘unforgivable’ crime of biting Chelsea’s Ivanovic, Suarez appears to have been forgiven. C’est la vie. There is so much to admire about the Uruguayan’s game; from the prolific goal-taking; stunning free-kicks; heroic work-rate, and his willingness to play other attackers in to score (a new element to his game).
Perhaps it is this last feature which tells the most important tale. Has Suarez, at last, learned to control himself and behave like a grown up?
If so, the world might just end up loving him.
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.