Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers can save Luis Suarez

Striker needs Kop boss more than ever

Deja-vu: Brendan Rodgers and Luis Suarez have been down this path before after the Uruguayan bit Branislav Ivanovic last year

Brendan Rodgers has been there and done it with Luis Suarez. Dealing with the days after the bite before. For Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in the World Cup read Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in the Premier League. The only difference is that the latest shame brought on Liverpool Football Club by the Uruguayan did not happen on the Ulsterman's watch.

Rodgers was in Belfast last year making the draw for the Milk Cup less than a fortnight after Suarez had sunk his teeth into Ivanovic at Anfield, which subsequently led to a 10 match suspension for the player from the FA.

Speaking to him then, Brendan, true to form, did not shirk the issue, insisting that the Suarez controversy would improve him as a boss.

He told me: "Dealing with the issue wasn't on any of the coaching courses I was ever on but you certainly come out of something like that a better manager. It makes you more experienced and helps you become better at your job."

Rodgers added: "It was a difficult period. Everyone knows that incident is not the type of example or the standard we want to set at Liverpool. Luis has accepted his punishment, as the club did, and he now serves his ban and we concentrate on the future."

That future turned out to be bright, with Liverpool emerging as surprise title contenders last season, playing glorious football with the sensational Suarez at the heart of it, though only after Rodgers had put his foot down and showed the South American who was boss.

Last summer, in the middle of the 10 game ban, the Uruguayan began angling for a move away from the club which had supported him when he was being slammed for diving around like Tom Daley, caught up in a racism storm with Manchester United's Patrice Evra and following the biting shame.

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez's previous record for biting might be used against him in World Cup 'biting' case 

It was Suarez's second, having chewed on PSV Eindhoven's Otman Bakkal in 2010 when he was an Ajax player.

Other managers may have caved in and sold to the highest bidder, believing Suarez was more harm than good, but receiving valued support from principal owner John W Henry, Rodgers played hard ball telling the forward he was staying at Anfield.

Rodgers was clever enough to use the carrot as well as the stick, explaining to his number seven just why it was so important for him to remain and what he could achieve at Liverpool by sticking around.

It was the type of brilliant man management that almost took the Reds to the title with Suarez inspiring Liverpool to the best displays seen at Anfield since the late '80s and moving to a different level as a player himself.

Most important of all, it appeared as though Suarez had been rehabilitated with his nasty streak on the field replaced by a more responsible side.

The demons, the devil and the dangerous flaw in his character returned on Tuesday when he chomped on Chiellini, an unacceptable act, which has no place in society or sport.

While the world watched, astonished that the 27-year-old had bitten a fellow professional for a THIRD time, Carnlough native Rodgers would have winced.

It wasn't just Uruguay that Suarez let down, it was Liverpool, their fans and Brendan Rodgers too.

Yesterday as the county Antrim man and the club were waiting to hear if any ban from Fifa would extend to club as well as country, there were calls for Liverpool to 'get rid' of someone who continually tarnishes the team and brand image.

Unless pressurised to sell from above due to the board having finally run out of patience, it would come as a change of direction from Rodgers if he wanted to do that. His first instinct will be to help the person and the player try to overcome his problems once and for all.

The Ulsterman will also be aware ahead of the biggest campaign of his life, which will include Champions League football and high expectations in the Premier League, that Suarez is virtually irreplaceable, regardless of who could be recruited thanks to a massive transfer fee from Barcelona or Real Madrid, still craving the striker despite the World Cup controversy.

Rodgers has worked successfully with Suarez previously despite all the baggage. He would have enough self belief in his managerial ability to work his magic again.

If anyone has a chance of putting the Uruguayan back on the straight and narrow it is the 41-year-old from Carnlough.

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