Rodgers gives Suarez full backing
Published 19/12/2013 | 16:51
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes even Luis Suarez, with his controversial history at the club, deserves a shot at redemption and he had no qualms about naming him as stand-in captain.
The Uruguay international took the armband for Sunday's 5-0 win at Tottenham in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard and with vice-captain Daniel Agger on the bench.
Some questioned whether a player who in nearly three years at the club has had lengthy suspensions for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra (seven games) and biting Branislav Ivanovic (10 games), and had tried to force a move away in the summer was deserving of such an honour, especially at a club which had such proud traditions and some exemplary leaders.
Bur Rodgers believes the 26-year-old has matured significantly since his most recent ban earlier this year and is keen to give Suarez a chance to make amends.
His 17 goals in 11 games to be the leading Premier League goalscorer, firing the Reds into second place, has gone some way to doing that.
And with the club desperate to keep the striker - managing director Ian Ayre flew to Barcelona this week to open talks over a new contract - Rodgers will hope any vote of confidence he can give will be reciprocated.
"You have seen his performances and conduct," he said.
"Whenever you choose the captain for a team or a club you always analyse lots of things that happen on and off the field.
"We all make mistakes and you would hate to think he would be punished for a lifetime because of that.
"This is a guy who has made a mistake and what he has shown is he is a learner in response to that.
"The award from the supporters (Suarez was voted player of the year by the Football Supporters' Federation on Sunday), not just those here at Liverpool but throughout the nation who picked him as a top player, in itself, is great redemption for what has happened in the past.
"I know him well enough and speak with him enough to think he is a great player, a good man and in Stevie's absence and with Daniel not being in the team I couldn't think of anyone better to lead the team than Luis Suarez."
Rodgers added: "I think it is part of nature that you mature and the ban hit him really hard last time.
"I've got to know him as a human being and I know a lot of things written and said about him couldn't be further from the truth.
"He is a really humble man, he just has this unique desire to win games. If you judge him on his football he is up there with the world's best.
"As a human being he's had his difficult moments and we've had our difficult moments with him, but he is a great guy and is really coming to the fore in this period.
"He is not only a top player he is one of the pillars of the group. He is maturing, accepting the role and responsibility I've given him here.
"We are a young side with an average age probably the lowest for a number of years and he has taken on that mantle in order to help and support those young players while having that X-factor to his game."
Suarez is set to lead out Liverpool at Anfield against Cardiff on Saturday.
It is a ground where he has scored 12 times in his five appearances this season, goals which have propelled Liverpool not only into the running for Champions League qualification but also title contention as they sit just two points behind Arsenal.
Returning to Europe's elite club competition is likely to be the minimum requirement to keep Suarez at the club.
Liverpool have opened preliminary talks over a new, lucrative deal but there is no chance anything would be signed before the club's fate next season is confirmed.
"Contractually with any players it is private so at the minute he is just focusing on his football and there is nothing to report on that (a new contract)," said the Reds boss.
"We are just very much focused on improving our performance level and improving players and I think that will all take care of itself, I don't think there is any rush at this moment in time.
"Of course he is a player we want to keep here and build the team around in the coming years."
Gerrard, sidelined until next month with a hamstring injury, is making good progress in his recovery.
"Steven is coming along very well, he is outside working and running," said Rodgers.