It’s the scenario Liverpool fans dread, and it’s the one we resigned ourselves to last summer. Every passing transfer window brings about rumour after rumour that Luis Suárez might leave the club. Last summer it was Arsenal, and in January it was Manchester City. No doubt the same stories will surface again this coming transfer window, with some of the top clubs in Europe likely to be seeking his signature. It’s easy to see why they’d want him as well, 31 goals and 12 assists in 33 games speaks for itself. In Europe, only Cristiano Ronaldo matched Suárez’s league goals tally this past season, and no player even comes close if you take penalties out of the equation. With that in mind, what happens if a club manages to pry Suárez away from Brendan Rodgers’ tight grip? The club will likely maintain that it will take a world-record bid before they even consider letting the Uruguayan go, however there are a few clubs capable of wielding such financial clout.
So, in a hypothetical situation, Real Madrid have an offer accepted for Suárez and he leaves Merseyside for sunny Spain. What next for Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers? How would the club react to losing such a pivotal player?
The first thing Brendan Rodgers did when he was appointed manager of the Reds was to recognise that Suárez was the squad’s best creative outlet, and that the team needed to be built around him. This meant that the likes of Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam had to go, as well as the flat 4-4-2 often played under Kenny Dalglish. Rodgers converted Suárez from his support-striker role under the previous regime to a lone striker, and the benefits were almost immediately felt.
The main issue that the Reds would have to tackle in the absence of Suárez would be team structure. So much of Liverpool’s attacking threat comes through Luis Suárez, and losing him would leave a huge gap on the pitch to be filled. Spurs had to deal with a similar problem last summer with the sale of Gareth Bale: influential players need to be replaced by influential players.
This poses another question, the possibility of replacing Suárez, like-for-like. He’s an extremely unique type of player, which is partially why he is so desired by other teams. There aren’t many players who have the combination of strength, creativity, workrate, and sheer doggedness that Suárez displays on a weekly basis. You could point to the apparently Chelsea-bound Diego Costa, however he isn’t as versatile as Suárez, often struggling when not played as a lone-striker. Another example would be Alexis Sanchez, who is capable of playing multiple positions, but doesn’t have the same level kind of goal output at Suárez does.
The unfortunate truth is that finding a like-for-like replacement for Luis Suárez would be an almost impossible task. His skill set is too unique to find a player who can just slot into the same role without hesitation. The likely outcome then would involve Rodgers having to restructure the team and perhaps change formation.
Rodgers clearly feels that Liverpool’s attack still needs work. As much as the Reds managed to score 101 goals this season, the manager still feels more can be added. The pursuit of players such as Adam Lallana and Yevhen Konoplyanka shows that Rodgers is focusing on creativity and versatility, with both targets being able to play multiple positions.
Fluidity is one of the most important aspects of Liverpool’s system, and there is clearly a desire to bring in players who can adapt their game depending on the opponent. Were Suárez to be sold, then these types of players would make the transition considerably smoother. Replacing his goals and assists would be no easy task, but it could be done. As the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling mature, they will begin to offer more and more to the team in terms of goal contribution.
The example that everyone will cite is that of Spurs, and how they dealt with the sale of Gareth Bale. While clearly some of the signings from André Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini did not work out, and there was a lot of turmoil behind-the-scenes, Tottenham only finished 3 points worse off this season than last. They scored fewer goals and conceded more, but they still managed to get the results they needed. In terms of Liverpool, the biggest crutch this season has been the defence, and the amount of goals conceded. Were Brendan Rodgers able to solidify the defence, while still bringing in quality attacking players, then the impact of Suárez’s departure would likely be somewhat dulled.
Ultimately, it’s clear that Liverpool need to hang on to Suárez if they want to keep building on the foundations laid over these past two seasons. The departure of such an integral player can have a similar impact as a manager leaving the club. The dreaded ‘transitional season’ would rear its ugly head again, and what we’ve been working towards could well be set back a season or two. However, if Liverpool do keep hold of Suárez, and make important improvements to the squad, then there’s no reason they can’t make another title challenge next season.