Suarez at the heart of Liverpool surge

Suarez at the heart of Liverpool surge

Suarez at the heart of Liverpool surge

It is coming up on 25 years since the terrible April day when 96 Liverpool fans were killed by being crushed against perimeter fencing at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. To this day, the families of the victims still seek the truth of what happened.

A new judicial inquiry began this week, and it is expected to last for at least a year.
It is 24 years since Liverpool last won the English League. That long wait could be over by the end of this month.

The tragedy and the hope are inseparable. Relatives and survivors still go to every game at Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool.

The addiction is hard to break, and some family members are drawn there knowing that that is where their loved ones would have been.

The title this season will most likely be decided at Anfield. Liverpool plays Manchester City there on April 13, the anniversary weekend of the Hillsborough disaster. It then hosts Chelsea on April 27.

Those are the three real contenders left in the race to be champion.

Liverpool is being driven toward the title by its skipper, Steven Gerrard, who was born and raised close to the stadium, and Luis Suárez, the extraordinary Uruguayan who is firing in goal after goal this season.

In the quarter-century that has passed since Hillsborough, the biggest change in England’s Premier League has been that three-quarters of the players who now line up for their clubs come from outside the country. Half the teams in the Premiership are now financed by foreigners — including Liverpool, owned by the Fenway Sports Group.

The American owners of the Boston Red Sox bought and set about refinancing the Reds of Liverpool in 2010. There was huge debt to pay off, and immense ambition to rekindle. Fenway Sports Group, led by John Henry and Thomas Warner, has proven that it gets Liverpool’s unique power of the team with the crowd.

The club is still in debt. But stage one toward solvency, qualifying for the Champions League, is now in the bag. Stage two, winning the English title, is ahead of schedule.

One would think that stage three toward redemption, challenging for the league title with a core of six British players supporting one outstanding Uruguayan import, was barely believable this time last season. Suárez was then the bad boy of English soccer.

He had bitten an opponent and was banned for 10 games, five of which overlapped with the start of this season.

Moreover, Suárez barely spoke English at the time, though he had been at Anfield since January 2011. Ajax of Amsterdam sold him to Liverpool not only because of the money, but also because Suárez had previously sunk his teeth into another player in the Dutch league.

This strange habit, this anger, contrasted perversely with the quiet and loving family man that Suárez is. He had no words to explain it, but last summer, while banned and on extensive leave in Uruguay, he and his agent agitated through the news media to try to force Liverpool to release him.

He wanted to play for Arsenal. He craved Champions League soccer. Apparently he despaired of Liverpool ever being able of providing that outlet.

Yet once back in uniform — he was welcomed back by Liverpool’s dynamic young coach, Brendan Rodgers, and by the players he sought to abandon — Suárez has sustained the most impressive season of any striker in the league.

He had returned apparently a transformed character.

Suárez always ran for any cause, even the apparently lost ones, on any team he played for. His ratio of goals per game is up there with other top scorers like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa.

With Ajax, he scored 111 times in 159 matches. His rate at Liverpool is running at 80 goals in 127 games. But it is not just scoring. In the league this season, he has demonstrated a willingness to share, to make decoy runs and passes for others.

Even so, some of his goals have come from such range and with such imagination that he can lift his team single-handedly at times.

Shooting with his right foot, left foot or head — or even the occasional surreptitious hand ball — Suárez is irrepressible. The effort to make the runs, and perhaps even more so the effort to behave this season, is an inspiration. Suárez is more than likely to become English soccer’s player of the season a year after being its outcast.

A man of unremarkable size, he turned 27 this year and even manages to charm television audiences with short postgame interviews, at times while cuddling the game ball awarded for scoring a hat trick.

But the greater triumph is the team’s success and the club finding its feet again after such a traumatic period in its history.

Gerrard is Liverpool’s flesh and blood, but Suárez, now that he speaks the language, is being drawn into the fold. And the team is reaping the obvious fruits of that effort.

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