Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Liverpool chief admits Luis Suarez has damaged club's brand

Ugly encounter: Ivanovic hits back at Suarez after biting incident
Ugly encounter: Ivanovic hits back at Suarez after biting incident

Luis Suarez's behaviour over the course of his Liverpool career has damaged the club brand, according to managing director Ian Ayre.

The Uruguayan returned from a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in Wednesday night's Capital One Cup defeat to Manchester United, having previously served an eight-game suspension for racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra.

Suarez further antagonised Reds supporters over the summer by agitating for a move away from Anfield, but Liverpool's principal owner John W Henry insisted the player would not be sold under any circumstances.

Ayre was impressed by Suarez's performance in the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford and by his desire to keep out of controversy on the night, but admitted the incidents the 26-year-old had been involved in previously had had a negative effect on the club.

"Of course, any types of incident of that nature are damaging to a brand, but Liverpool Football Club is way, way bigger and always will be way bigger than any one player or one individual," Ayre said.

"What is important at those times is to ensure that we act respectfully and professionally as a football club. In the past we got some of that wrong and I'd say more recently we got that right.

"Luis is a footballer, sort of a street fighter, a larger-than-life character and we have seen that across not just even the Premier League but across football and other sports.

"Nobody is condoning any bad behaviour, but it is just something you have to deal with. He is what he is, he is the character he is, and we have to try and harness that.

"We have worked a lot with Luis since the last incident with Ivanovic and he has responded well to that. He has been prepared to commit to that sort of work on his character. We saw him back on Wednesday night and he (showed) the good bits of Luis, which is terrorising defenders and we're pleased he is back, pleased he is contributing.

"As we said all along through the summer, we expected him to remain a Liverpool player. He has remained a Liverpool player and we all move on together."

Suarez spoke after the United match pledging to do all he could to help his club, a stark contrast to last month when he claimed manager Brendan Rodgers had reneged on a deal to let him leave for a team involved in the Champions League.

The Reds have enjoyed a decent start to the campaign, with things going in the right direction on and off the field under the Fenway Sports Group (FSG).

"We find ourselves two-and-a-half years down that process, with a great young manager, who is bringing together a great squad," Ayre said.

"There is a big project on an expansion to our stadium going on, so if you look at it in that very short period what they've achieved and the business is moving forward year on year financially.

"If you look at the combination of things, I think (FSG) will be very pleased with their investment and starting to see and understand the real size of that opportunity long term."

The redevelopment of Anfield is high on the list of priorities, having chosen to abandon plans to move to a new stadium in favour of improving the famous old ground.

Ayre says staying at Anfield has "always been the right answer", with plans afoot to increase capacity to nearly 60,000.

"Our ambition is to stay at Anfield and we were approached about 18 months ago by Liverpool City Council about a very wide regeneration programme.

"There are two or three hurdles to get over, the biggest one and the first is the acquisition of properties, some of which are very close to the stadium. I would say we are about 90-plus per cent down that route, so it has been a fantastic achievement."

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