Suarez and Coutinho – Legends?

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Article by Karl Coppack @TheCenci

What makes a legend? Someone worthy of the term ‘Anfield great’? There are certainly enough of them. The pantheon of Liverpool legends is so packed that it takes something special to be accepted.

It’s a pertinent question as it comes with certain caveats and agendas. Next week, Liverpool line up against two such candidates when the Reds take on Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

Like everything in football, the reasoning is often purely subjective.  Whereas one fan can see something glorious in, say, Emre Can, another can see something completely different. How do you assess who belongs where based on that?

Sure, players such as Rush and Dalglish are automatic choices, but the lines become more blurred when examining the more recent Reds.

All—and I do mean all—football fans are hypocrites, prepared to change long-held beliefs at the drop of a hat should a contrary view benefit their club.  I’m certainly one and there’s no better example than my view of Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz.

I didn’t like him at all. Pretty much detested him, to be honest.

In my defence my enmity began way before he picked up the number 7 shirt and started doing genius things on the pitch while wearing the correct shirt. You may be ahead of me here. This is not about Liverpool or Ajax or biting or anything like that. This is about Ghana.

My friend is of Ghanaian descent so I naturally followed them throughout the 2010 World Cup and was left dumbstruck as they progressed through the tournament. Something beautiful was happening and it added to the improbable beauty of the game. Lowly Ghana were on their way to the World Cup semi-finals.

I can still remember where I was when Suarez hand-balled Dominc Adiyiah’s goal bound header as extra time ran out. Had that gone in only the Netherlands would have stood in the way of Ghana becoming the first African country to reach a World Cup final. However, what did stand in the way, in a very real sense, was Luis Suarez’s left hand as he smashed it away like a volleyball spike. It may have been the most blatant handball ever, but he still pointed to his chest in surprise when the red card was shown. Top shit-housery.

Sure there was an advantage, but I feared the worse when Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the pen. His World Cup had been fantastic up to that point, but, well, you sensed that things could turn. I felt the same way when John Aldridge began his run-up against Wimbledon in the 1988FA Cup final. Anyone in the ground that day (or at least the people near me) would tell you the same. The game had a strange sort of doom attached to it.

Gyan hit the bar, Suarez celebrated like a loon and I burned with indignation. Later he would talk of ‘making the save of the tournament.’

You can imagine how I felt about him being linked to our club.

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That behaviour was justified by Reds who had no dog in the Ghanaian fight. ‘I’d expect him to do that for us.’ ‘It shows he’s a real winner.’ ‘The club needs that.  The darks arts.’  That sort of thing. I disagreed and vented an enormous amount of spleen in articles and fora.

At the FSF Awards in December 2013 I met Suarez, had a photo taken with him and gladly shook his hand.

Hypocrite? My God, yes.

You know why, of course.

You do anything if it forwards the cause of your club. Seeing Luis Suarez in the flesh slowly changed my mind. His four goals and all-round game against Norwich in December 2013 was the single greatest Anfield performance I’ve ever seen. He was barely human that night. My favourite moment came after his second goal when, during the celebrations, he shook his head in disbelief at what he’d just done.  He had no idea either. It was just instinct and he too was amazed by it.

He came with dramas too—the Evra incident, the bites etc.—but you can’t deny the genius. He was unplayable and players like that are rare.

A Liverpool legend, though? Not for me.

Philippe Coutinho didn’t burn quite so brightly, but he too became the focal point during his time at the club. Though much quieter and less agenda-led than the Uruguayan he too saved the Reds on numerous occasions. When Suarez left in the summer of 2014 Brendan Rodgers shifted the Brazilians position as the Reds struggled to find goals. Come the end of that season he and Raheem Sterling became the main central strikers despite recognised forwards such as Balotelli, Lambert and Borini being available. Even a midfielder playmaker was deemed better than that lot. Coutinho ended the season with eight goals.

He truly shone under Jurgen Klopp, who utilised him in his preferred position as playmaker. The goals increased (twelve in 2015-16, fourteen in 16-17 and twelve again in his final half season) but it was his creative prowess and his ability to knock in long-range goals which really elevated his status. The Kop loved him and there are many who would take him back despite his messy exit.

Legend? Hmm …

Both had their heads turned by Barcelona—common with South American players—and expect to play in the next tie. Coutinho was adequately replaced at Anfield, Suarez was not—or at least not until Mo Salah came along.

Of course, players can leave Liverpool and still be adored by the fans. Back in 1987 there was a campaign led by fans to keep Ian Rush at the club when he announced his move to Juventus. His farewell was wonderful, scoring in his final Anfield game in a 1-0 win against Watford. He later came back as a Juve player to feature in Alan Hansen’s testimonial and was lauded around the ground—so much so, in fact, that the Hansen ended up with lesser billing despite it being his night. Rush scored two in the game. Obviously.

Suarez and Coutinho may not be so lucky.

Maybe legendary status is bestowed purely on the way you leave the club. Keegan, Rush and Gerrard all gave plenty of notice before they went  whereas Suarez never returned from the World Cup to say goodbye and Coutinho was rumoured to have stumped up £11.5m of his own money to see the deal through.

The most important criteria should always be success. Luis Suarez was one of the most gifted footballers I’ve ever seen, but only took a League Cup winners medal with him. He and Coutinho have already won more at the Catalan giants, though none of that is our business now they’re wearing the blue and red. Let’s hope that well dries up over the next couple of weeks.

When judged like that, is Virgil van Dijk a Liverpool legend? No, he can’t be. Alan Hansen and Steve Nicol? Of course. They won the lot.  Virgil will win things here, but hasn’t yet and ours is a support keen to throw up statues before such accolades are attained. He’s brilliant, but give him time.

Suarez will receive a decent reception when he visits on 8th May, Coutinho probably less so, but I hope it’s not a full one. The game comes first. Liverpool come first and the result is the only thing we should concentrate on. When Real Madrid visited in 2015 Liverpool fans were just a little too gushing at the sight of the big wigs as the lads on the pitch kowtowed accordingly. Anfield needs to be a cauldron, not a dinner party.

Legends? I don’t think so. Brilliant to watch, great servants during their time here, but not enough for them to have the gold key to the Anfield Executive Toilet just yet.

Here’s hoping they have nightmares and that there are more worthy candidates closer to home come early June.

Article by Karl Coppack @TheCenci

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