Pictures: Action Images
Luis Suarez came full circle when he was voted the Footballer of the Year for 2014 by the Football Writers’ Association, who recognised the rehabilitation and dedication of the Liverpool forward.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers collected the prestigious accolade, which has been running since 1948, on behalf of the Uruguay forward, away on holiday ahead of the World Cup, at a gala dinner at the London Lancaster Hotel on May 15.
Suarez netted 31 goals in a remarkable campaign which not only drove Liverpool close to a first league title in 24 years, but also saw the forward put negative headlines of the past firmly behind him.
“It is amazing for me and the club as well,” Suarez said in a pre-recorded interview broadcast on the evening.
“For many years, there have been a lot of big players who have won this prize.
“Thank you so much to all the Football Writers who voted for me because they recognised my work on the pitch, and they know that I try my best to help Liverpool.
“I know that it was a difficult time for me one or two years ago, but I accept that criticism, but then if you concentrate and focus to help the team, everything can be perfect.
“I am an easy guy outside the pitch, and on the pitch I know I changed, but because I love the football, I have fought so hard to stay at this level.”
FWA chairman Andy Dunn, of the Sunday Mirror, felt Suarez’s dedication to his profession was why he proved himself a worthy receipt.
“There are some members who remind quite frequently that in the citation for this award it mentions he is the Footballer of the Year by ‘precept and by example’,” Dunn said.
“Now that part of the citation is important, but I do think what better example is there of someone who maybe realised that they did have issues to address on the field of play and has addressed those issues?
“I think Luis Suarez has done that and I think that is why he fulfills that criteria.
“And, of course, there is that bit that says ‘the Footballer of the Year’ and what a footballer he is, what a footballer we’ve had the privilege to watch, particularly this season.”
Rodgers thanked Suarez – who was also named who was also named the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year for 2013/2014 – for making him a better manager.
“On behalf of Luis and all of Liverpool Football Club’s staff, we want to say a big thank you to the Football Writers’ Association,” he said.
“I think everybody knows the struggles he had in the last year. It has been incredibly difficult for him.
“But rehabilitation is always respected in the country – people who want to change for the better and he is certainly someone that was at a real low point at the end of the last season.
“I know that better than anyone. It was a real, real difficult period for him but he went away and, after a difficult summer, the power of Liverpool and the club that it is convinced him to stay.
“Once we got the season under way, he concentrated on his football and we have had a number of outstanding players this season but Luis Suarez has been incredible.”
Rodgers used the speech to thank former manager Kenny Dalglish for signing Suarez, Liverpool’s communication team and managing director Ian Ayre.
First and foremost in the Reds boss’ praise, though, was Suarez, whose performances this season saw them come so close to the title.
“When I came into Liverpool as manager, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard said to me this was the best player that they had played with,” Rodgers added.
“I thought about those two and all the great players they have played with in their career, so I was really interested to see what his play was like close up.
“For me, he has challenged me every day of my life, he’s done everything that you would need to do at the top level of the game as a player.
“Luis Suarez is a winner, his determination is unique, he is absolutely relentless. He is someone that trains every single day of his life – he doesn’t look for an excuse.
“And what people don’t see is that he is a very intelligent man. He is a winner when he crosses the line, but with great intelligence.
“For a young manager like myself coming into a club like Liverpool, I understand the pressures of the club and those pressures include everything that involves managing top players.
“I know for however long I am at Liverpool, whenever I leave I will have become a better manager and a better person because of Luis Suarez and for that I thank him so much.”
Liverpool and England captain Gerrard, who was also away on a pre-World Cup break, is in no doubt where Suarez stands among his peers.
Writing a personal tribute for the FWA programme, he said: “I have been privileged to play alongside some great players during my years at Liverpool, but nobody comes close to Luis. He is not only the best, he’s the best by some distance.
“We have all seen what he’s done this season with his goals and his all-round brilliance and I think it has taken Luis on to a different level.
“Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best players in the world and have been for the last four or five years, but Luis is tucked right in there behind them now.”
Suarez was also praised on stage by Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who proposed the toast to the FWA.
Earlier in the evening, which was attended by a number of former winners as well as current players and managers within the game, Jeff Powell, of the Daily Mail, had recalled his memories of the late Sir Tom Finney, who was voted the Footballer of the Year twice, in 1954 and 1957.
There were also FWA Lifetime Membership presentations to Tony Stenson, of the Daily Star Sunday, and renowned Sunday Times columnist Hugh McIlvanney.
Luis Suarez, the Footballer of the Year for 2014