SHAFAQNA – He will be at home when the awards are handed out rather than standing on stage, holding a memento that recognises his supreme efforts.
Cast a glance at the Ballon d’Or nominees and, in a flash, you will see that one big name is notable by its absence. While Paul Pogba, the Juventus and France midfielder, and the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic make the 23-man list ahead, Luis Suarez misses the cut.
No matter that Suarez scored 31 goals in the Barclays Premier League, was crowned both the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year, and came within a whisker of leading Liverpool to the title, when the prizes are distributed next January, Suarez will be nowhere to be seen.
Luis Suarez beams as he poses with the 2014 PFA player of the year award back in April
We all know why. The World Cup, Uruguay versus Italy in Natal; as his dream is slipping away, the fuses in his mind short-circuit and he bites Giorgio Chiellini. The incident becomes front page news around the globe and a four-month ban follows.
Forget that bite on Branislav Ivanovic – after which he was still named in the shortlist for 2013 award. This was on a much bigger stage.
From that point of view, Suarez must take his medicine. When you bring the game into disrepute in such extraordinary circumstances, you have to expect the backlash and punishments that follow. Suarez, in this respect, is his own worst enemy.
Suarez’s year took a significant turn for the worse when he opted to bite Giorgio Chiellini in July
But, for all that, you cannot help feel the 23-man list to be crowned the best footballer on the planet lacks sheen without his presence. It is sad, in some respects, because Suarez’s talents are so magnificent that he easily rubs shoulders with those who are in the running.
This is not to say he would have won the Ballon d’Or. Bookmakers rightly have Cristiano Ronaldo as the long odds-on favourite, having helped Real Madrid win the Champions League and Copa del Rey with more goals than you could imagine possible. He is a phenomenon.
If he had not bitten Chiellini, though, Suarez should have made the podium. He was glorious to watch last season, a force of nature with dynamite in boots, someone who could not have done any more to lift Liverpool over a line they had not crossed for 24 years.
Suarez’s form for Liverpool last season earned him a £75million move to Barcelona
‘Rehabilitation is something we respect in this country,’ Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said on the night the FWA honoured Suarez. ‘He had a difficult time but once the power of Liverpool convinced him to stay and he concentrated on his football, he was incredible.’
That last word was not used lightly nor was it hyperbole. A ticket to Anfield last season guaranteed entertainment and supporters went with the giddy anticipation of wondering what Suarez was going to produce for his next trick.
How about four goals, including a 35-yard volley, against Norwich? What about the strike against Cardiff before Christmas that had the trajectory of a boomerang? Or the dispossessing of Phil Jagielka and subsequent 60-yard sprint that ended with Liverpool’s final goal in the 4-0 win over Everton?
Suarez celebrates one of his four goals scored against Norwich at Anfield in December 2013
The Uruguayan celebrates wildly after scoring against Everton in January as Liverpool won 4-0
There were hat-tricks at home, hat-tricks on the road and, in some ways, one of his most spectacular moments was one that failed to end up with a goal – think of the volley from Steven Gerrard’s corner against Arsenal that smashed against the crossbar from 30 yards.
‘From day one he was a phenomenal in training every day and in the games,’ Gerrard reflected. ‘He would have been deadly for us in the Champions League. There’s no getting away from that. Everyone knows what I think of him. He’ll cause mayhem in the Champions League with Barcelona.’
Suarez had some highlights reel. Cast your eye over the Ballon d’Or list again and, though there is no arguing about the quality of those selected, a number of players did not reach the levels the man from Salto scaled during Liverpool’s bid for glory.
A tearful Cristiano Ronaldo picks up last year’s award in Zurich – he is odds-on favourite to win it again
Without that bite, he would, quite probably, have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ronaldo and, in all likelihood, Lionel Messi or Diego Costa, the totem at the head of Atletico Madrid’s charge to La Liga and the Champions League final.
Instead, when football’s gliteratti assemble in Zurich next January, he will be in the shadows. He will know it should have so been different.