Sublime Luis Suarez continues to divide opinion

STEVE DOUGLAS
Last updated 08:01 06/12/2013

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By mixing jaw-dropping goals with a growing list of brushes with controversy, Luis Suarez divides opinion like perhaps no other player in world football.

Since 2010, Suarez's crime sheet includes biting two opponents, racially abusing another and becoming vilified globally for a cynical handball on the goal-line during a World Cup quarterfinal. There's also his penchant for diving that infuriates spectators and opposition managers alike.

There are days, though, when fans are left shaking their heads not because of his misdemeanors but for his outrageous moments of brilliance on the field.

On Thursday, the Uruguay striker was being compared with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - and hailed as arguably the greatest striker in Liverpool's history - after a scintillating four-goal display against Norwich in the Premier League.

One of his strikes was an audacious 45-yard volley. Another was a bobbing, weaving run that ended with a fierce drive into the far corner. Another was a curling free kick from 25 yards.

"They were all wonder goals, not just tap-ins," Ian Rush, Liverpool's all-time top scorer, said. "You have to compare him with Messi and Ronaldo."

Another striker idolized at Anfield, Robbie Fowler, added jokingly on the BBC: "I love him but I'm also starting to dislike him because he's making all the ex-Liverpool strikers look very average."

Liverpool has been blessed with brilliant strikers down the years. There was Roger Hunt in the 1960s, Kevin Keegan, "King" Kenny Dalglish, Rush and John Aldridge in the '70s and '80s, and Fowler in the 90s.

This century, The Kop has grown to adore Michael Owen and Fernando Torres but rarely has Anfield's collective breath been taken away quite like it was on Wednesday.

"At times it's just a case of getting the ball to him and letting him produce," Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen said. "His goals came out of nothing, really."

Fans, officials and teammates had their patience tested to the limit over the summer when Suarez publicly pushed for a transfer away from Liverpool in search of Champions League football. Two bids from Arsenal were rejected.

Liverpool is reaping the benefits of its decision to play hard-ball with its best player.

Suarez missed the first five rounds of the Premier League while he served the remainder of the second ban of his career for biting, but he is still the division's top scorer with 13 goals in nine games.

"When I am happy off the pitch you can see it (on the pitch)," Suarez is quoted as saying on the website of Spanish sports daily Marca on Thursday. "I am happy in the Premier League, it's the best league there is.

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"Luckily, I am scoring goals now to make up for the games I missed. I am getting back my confidence and helping the team. The important thing is that Liverpool finishes in the top four after a long time not doing so. I am going to help the team do so."

And Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers also thinks the difficulties of the summer have been overcome.

"I think he is the happiest he has been here," Rodgers said. "He flies all around the world but I think this club suits him perfectly and I still think his best years are going to be here.

"The profile of the club, the connection with the supporters, you can see it is a hand-in-glove fit for him."

Not everyone will want him to stay in the Premier League, though. Norwich's players, for example, can't wait to see the back of Suarez, who has scored 11 goals and three hat tricks in four games against them.

"I wish Suarez would just leave us alone. Big bully," Norwich midfielder Anthony Pilkington said.

- AP

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