Luis Suarez is set to make his return after suspension against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup next Wednesday. At the fourth FWA Live sponsored by Barclays in Liverpool the panel – Michael Owen (former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Stoke City and England striker, now a BT Sport pundit), Alan Stubbs (Everton’s Under-21 coach), Andy Dunn (FWA chairman), Chris Bascombe (Daily Telegraph), Paul Joyce (Daily Express) and Jonathan Northcroft (Sunday Times) spoke about the Uruguay striker and much more. FWA executive secretary Paul McCarthy was the MC.
MO: I watched a lot of Liverpool in pre-season and they looked good, very efficient, Lucas was sat in front of the back-four, they looked solid with so much interchange in forward positions. Daniel Sturridge is scoring goals and while we don’t want to get too carried away, I said in the BT Sport predictions Liverpool would finish fourth and got a lot of stick. I stand by that, I like what I’m seeing and I think they’ll have a good season.
CB: The Champions League is so huge these days, it’s a monster and there’s almost an open-top bus tour for finishing fourth. But Liverpool are still far away from winning the title. Rather than measure Liverpool by position I’d do it by points. If they get 70 this season they’ll have done well and it may be enough to finish fourth.
AD: The advantage Liverpool have is they face only 30-odd more games that really matter in the Barclays Premier League. With no Europe that’s all they need to concentrate on and with Suarez to come back there is no reason why they can’t aim higher than fourth.
PJ: Inevitably when the January window comes round there will be some interest [in Suarez]. He’ll give his all when he comes back, but I can see this situation playing up again. It’ll be interesting to see whether his contract is renegotiated.
PM: It was renegotiated last summer, should it be renegotiated again?
PJ: No, I don’t think it should, but talk against power agents and all that…
AS: We had Liverpool’s most charismatic player [Steven Gerrard] saying how important Suarez is to the team for them to achieve something. That says it all.
JN: Fans are caught in two minds over Suarez. They are tired of the sagas he’s put them through, but on the pitch he has never been anything other than a brilliant 100 per cent player. If he performs as he did before people will forgive him. The great thing for Liverpool is that Suarez is coming back into a winning team, not as a saviour. He’ll have to fight for a place, maybe even playing wide to fit more into the team pattern. Perhaps unexpectedly Liverpool are in a much stronger position than you would have thought throughout the summer.
AD: The reception Suarez and Wayne Rooney have been getting is amazing. Here we have two players at two clubs…institutions…and both Suarez and Rooney said they didn’t want to be there. Rooney’s said it twice over the past two years. Fans have changed. I can remember the times when they would have been run out of town. The players should be grateful because they have been given a lot of indulgences by the fans.
PM: Would you bring him back against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup?
The panel agreed they would…
JN: Yes. He’ll be motivated by playing for a winning team. He’s a natural competitor. I interviewed him last season [the interview was published on the day of the Ivanovic biting incident] and asked him what his favourite part was. He said the start because he was playing two games a week. It gave an insight into his mentality.
The panel moved on to Suarez’s summer transfer to Arsenal that fell through.
MO: I think Arsenal are lacking everywhere. Defensively they have a good record, but they don’t convince. If they get to the latter stages of the Champions League I wouldn’t be too sure about their defence. Midfield looks OK, not the strikers…over the years they’ve had Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie, some of the best in the world. Giroud is scoring a few goals, but it was significant they tried to buy Suarez. They’re off it, for me, by a good few players.
PJ: In the corporate world, if you are given a budget and a target to achieve by the end of your financial year and you don’t achieve it because you decided not to spend that budget then you have failed. Wenger is not the finance director, he’s the football manager and why he tries to protect their finances I don’t understand. If your objective has been to make the top four every year while repaying for the stadium then he’s achieved it.
CB: Wenger’s an idealist, but I can’t think of anyone other than Wenger who has changed the identity of football…
PM: …Chelsea under Jose Mourinho?
CB: They played a very effective kind of counter-attacking football. Wenger completely changed so much in our game and everyone tried to follow. We’ll look back at Wenger and think he was a visionary, but at the moment he is struggling with the modern dynamics of the game.
AD: The Suarez bid was so out of character. Someone had obviously told him if you bid £40 million and one pound then you can have him…you’ll get him. It’s unusual that he would just take someone’s word for it and it struck me he took his eye off the ball. If the agent tells you you can have him for that amount you’d want to double-check. You’d want to see the actual clause for starters. It wasn’t a Wenger-type thing to do given all the preparation that goes into his bids. It made me wonder if he was thinking it is his last season. He’s made a bid here on the strength of someone having a word in his shell-like.
A guest made the point that players are reluctant to make a transfer request “because they are not willing to give up their fee apart from Fellaini.”
AS: My understanding was he [Fellani] took a cut on some of his wages he was due from Manchester United to make sure the deal went through. So putting a transfer request in saved them a little bit of money. The way the transfer deadline goes…everyone looks at it…it got to a stage where we knew the Bale thing was going to happen…that was the big one…underlying from that there wasn’t really an awful lot going on…probably come seven o’clock in the night at Everton the word from the training ground was that no one was going to go…Fellaini was staying …Bainesey was never really an option…the club had dug its heels in …Bainesey had obviously said he’d like to go…and then come nine o’clock suddenly we started to get linked with Lukaku and then the Fellaini thing was starting with negotiations with United…by the time it [the transfer window] had finished we’d bought three in [Gareth Barry, Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy] and they are great additions to the squad.
AD: With Wayne Rooney, even if he had put a transfer request in United would just turn round and say: “no.” If Rooney had put in a transfer request and United had said no, he would have looked even worse. You can write a transfer request in blood, but you still don’t have to leave. He had a decision to make: if he does put a request in and it is then refused, it would be the end with the fans. The fans then know…if they hadn’t heard from Rooney they can think maybe he doesn’t want to go. We all knew he wanted to go.
PJ: He had a similar situation when United said “oh, you’re a star…here’s X-amount more” and he got himself a new contract. Was there an element of that again?
AD: I don’t think that was the case this time.
JN: Two years ago he did get a new deal out of it. What’s different this time is that he was told right from the start the club didn’t even want to negotiate a new contract. The message was for him to get his head down and prove himself again. It put him in a strange position – he did want to leave, but two things changed the way he felt. He was worried what Ferguson said would turn the fans against him, but it’s obvious they still support him. He also worried whether Ferguson still being there…would he still be interfering? When Mourinho came said “put a transfer request in” that was just Mourinho being naughty.
PM: Do we admire the stance of Manchester United and Liverpool because in the past the trend was, generally, players got the moves they wanted. Big clubs now are taking a stance against big players.
MO: The first time he [Rooney] wanted to go he won the battle, basically, and got an extra zero [on his contract]. This time it’s been different. He wants to play all the time, Robin van Persie came in and stole his thunder…he’s not the first name on the team-sheet and more…Ferguson left him out of the Real Madrid game…a new manager came in and made noises that van Persie was his number one. All of a sudden he’s thinking “I don’t want to be second fiddle. I need to be playing.” He wants to be loved and play all the time. The Suarez situation was a better example of of a club saying “no, you are not going anywhere.” You have to bear in mind their backgrounds, who they are and where they are from. Liverpool fans love Suarez and yes, he’ll appreciate the affection, but he doesn’t have the sort of bond with them like a Steven Gerrard or a Jamie Carragher. Suarez is from South America, he’s played in Holland and whoever had paid the fee to Ajax he’d have gone. He didn’t come to Liverpool because he adored the club. When people say they showed him loyalty so just show it back…bear in mind he wanted to reach the top of his career. I understand where he’s coming from.
AD: In any other walk of life if you had the chance to make a step up in your career [as Leighton Baines could have done], and with respect it is a step up [to join United] you’d be able to make it. He was denied that chance and it is where the transfer market is unique. You are saying to a 29-year-old who may have only five years left of his career [at the top level] that he cannot go and play in the Champions League in front of 70,000 people. However, he’s with a great club and is hugely appreciated by a great set of supporters…
MO: Players always get the raw end of the deal. Fans support [their club] through thick and thin…if I wasn’t a footballer I’d have been supporting Everton…if anyone did anything to harm my club and wanted to leave I’d say “no way.” If you work for a company and a rival offers you more money, to have better career prospects, no one would bat an eyelid if you moved. Most people have done this. Why is it wrong for a footballer? Because football fans expect everyone else to feel the same way [about their club]. Most footballers just want to reach the top of their profession like anyone else. Fans can’t understand that because they are so indebted to the badge on the shirt. This is unfair in many ways.