July 2014 – Luis Suarez’s kitchen.
LUIS takes a sip on the chrome straw and winces. He mentally curses Sofia in the way that he would berate a team mate for not playing him in when he’s free in the box.
His countenance softens as he knows it’s not his beautiful wife or the fact his ‘mate cocido’ tea is not as strong as he likes it that has got his nerves on a knife edge.
He’s been back from the World Cup a matter of days and now has to make a heart breaking decision. His phone illuminates and vibrates on the marble worksurface – before he picks the device up he knows who the message is from.
He slides his thumb from left to right across the screen and the name ‘Pere’ appears and one simple question is illuminated at the bottom of a thread of a conversation that has been going on throughout his time with the national squad.
Luis breathes heavily and types in to his handset: ‘ok do it.’ He turns the phone face down and absent-mindedly takes another draw on the tea receptacle and is once again annoyed by its lack of potency.
He has just enjoyed his most successful season in the Premier League. With his beloved Liverpool he has scored 39 Premier League goals, winning the Golden Boot from his nearest rivals – teammate Daniel Sturridge and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, both on a respectable 27 each for the season.
All three players endured periods of not being able to play but his own relentless assault on Premier league defences scooped not only the individual prize from the league, he also scooped the fan’s ‘Golden Samba’, a trophy that although having won it before, means much more to him than any league trinket or a Football Writers’ that he will inevitably collect.
Liverpool’s FA Cup run had really kicked into gear after putting 10 goals past Arsenal in 8 days across two meetings in February in the league and the cup.
Liverpool’s pursuit of the cup alongside the club’s inability to reinforce the squad in January meant that the team that had all but run out of steam and legs come the last few weeks of the campaign. Luis also suspected that a couple of players rested their legs ahead of a forthcoming World Cup swansong once fourth place had been secured rather than push on to finish higher or even pursue the faint chance of a title challenge.
He understood that an FA Cup win and fourth place was above and beyond the club’s expectations at the start of the term – and he should be happy. But Luis is not wired that way. Why settle for fourth – when first, second and third are within your grasp?
Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League qualification stage and will face Inter Milan over two legs. Had they finished in the top 3 this would not have been necessary and would be straight into the group stages.
His mind has been preoccupied since leaving Melwood in May with one question; will Liverpool even navigate this tie?
If not, Luis knows he will have played for them and effectively ’cup-tied’ himself if he moves. If Luis does not grace the world’s most prestigious club competition this season he will be 28 years of age before his next chance.
Even then, another season on, at the peak of his powers with a choice of top clubs to play for, if Liverpool manage to qualify again, as second seeds, they will not be favourites to emerge from their group.
He’s agonised over this decision for weeks and it clearly affected his performances for his country at the World Cup. He ‘earned’ his country a penalty that effectively stymied England’s progression from Group D. The one-nil win consigned the English national team to third place behind Italy and Uruguay. The English red-tops have gone typically over-board and his image has been on the front and back pages for weeks with amusing additions of accoutrements such as devil horns and scuba diving equipment.
Luis implores Sofia: ”Pere says we can use this treatment at the hands of the media as one of the justifications for the move.” As the words tumble from his mouth he neither believes them himself, nor expects his sharp-witted wife to buy it for a second. “Luis,” she sighs, “this did not work out so well last summer.” Luis returns his head to his hands. “Sofia – it is DONE. We are moving to Madrid.”
Same Day – Ian Ayre’s Office, LFC HQ, Chapel Street
IAN AYRE has a smile on his face, legs crossed and his feet on his desk expose his ‘The Simpsons’ socks that he received in last winter’s ‘Office Secret Santa’ – he has a hands free desk phone – he’s calling Brendan Rodgers.
“Brendan, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.”
Rodgers responds soberly, “Ian, I need to speak to you – ideally face to face.”
“Pick, Pick, do you want the good news or the bad news?”
Rodgers is clearly frustrated that Ian isn’t listening to him again and is preoccupied with his ‘news’. Brendan has learned over time to indulge him as it’s quicker in the long run.
“Give me the good news…”
“No, I’ll give you the bad news first..”
“Why ask? …..never mind,” mutters the Ulsterman.
“The bad news is that we’ve sold Luis to Real Madrid.”
“The good news is we’ve got £111m for him and I think I can convince Tom and John to let us spend at least £45m of it on replacements and improving the squad. Obviously enhancing Daniel, Raheem and Philippe’s contract has got to be funded by this too.”
“Oh and we won’t ink any new player contracts until the Milan game is out of the way.”
“Ian, I need to speak to you. I’ll be there in ten minutes. (click)”
Rodgers jumps into his 4×4 at Melwood and navigates the arterial routes to the club’s headquarters in the city centre where he parks in the underground car park between a Harley Davidson and a white Lamborghini.
He walks into the office and declines a coffee from Ian’s secretary. “Ian – I’ve got something to tell you.”
“Brendan I can tell you aren’t over the moon – I may be able to get you £55m at a push but you understand we’ve got all these costs with the ground refurbishment and….”
“IAN! Let me speak man!”
“Alright Brendan sorry, sit down mate, coffee?”
“No thank you,” Brendan gathers his composure,
“You saw that England were limp again in the World Cup?”
“Shite weren’t they, although our boys did ok, eh?” Ayre guffaws.
“Well the FA have been in touch, they like the style of play, they like that not only have we won the cup but got top four ahead of expectations. The player development, especially Raheem and Jordan, my stock is pretty high right now. Roy’s out and they want me.”
“Is this about Luis?” Ayre looks quizzically on.
“No it’s not about Luis, but that hasn’t helped Ian. My stock is high the timing is right. Do you really think that the committee will get the deals done in time to bring in players for Champions League? Do you think we can replace Luis’s goals and deepen the squad with £55m? Liverpool Football Club have been brilliant to me but I think it’s time.”
“I’ve made my mind up Ian. Do you want me to tell John or will you?”
FADE TO BLACK
WHILST the above is clearly a fiction, none of what has been written is beyond the realms. If this Liverpool team has it within them to finish above fourth, they need to take it. As prized as fourth place would be, I’m not convinced that this alone answers all of our prayers.
Automatic qualification ensures that we can go into the summer window with guaranteed CL football on the table. This is a very different proposition to prospective targets.
The squad needs managing expertly in the coming months. Giving key players as much rest as is practical whilst ensuring we maximise points. I’m not taking fourth for granted by the way, but you can see, even finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup could still see LFC going through another period of dreaded ‘transition.’
I’m enjoying going the match more this season than I have in years, and the Arsenal performance at the weekend was as near perfect as the Forest 5-0 or the demolition of Real Madrid under Rafa.
The effort, skill and determination we showed to blow the (then) league leaders away on Saturday needs to be repeated on Wednesday night against Fulham, and then for the next 12 league games – do that and we leave ourselves a chance of not only claiming fourth – but who knows what?
Saturday Liverpool put down a marker. If Brendan Rodgers can fend off injury and complacency this Liverpool team can achieve whatever it wants.
Onwards Red Men.