Liverpool’s Luis Suárez says he had the club’s verbal agreement that he could leave this summer and a ‘release’ clause in his new contract that Arsenal have met.
Luis Suárez has pleaded with Liverpool to fulfil the promise they made a year ago and let him leave Anfield. The Uruguay striker insists that he is prepared to submit a written transfer request by the end of the week if the club continue to block his move to Arsenal. Speaking for the first time since Arsenal made a £40,000,001 bid for him, Suárez told the Guardian he believes that he has been left little alternative.
Suárez claims the club told him they would let him depart if they failed to qualify for the Champions League this season and that a clause in his contract allows him to leave should someone make a bid of more than £40m. He says he has the backing of the Professional Footballers’ Association and that he his prepared to take the issue to the Premier League to force his exit and move to the Emirates before the transfer window closes on 2 September.
“Last year I had the opportunity to move to a big European club and I stayed on the understanding that if we failed to qualify for the Champions League the following season I’d be allowed to go,” he revealed. “I gave absolutely everything last season but it was not enough to give us a top-four finish – now all I want is for Liverpool to honour our agreement.”
At the heart of the battle is the “release” clause that was included in Suárez’s new contract, signed last August. Liverpool have denied that the contract obliges them to sell to any club that more than £40m.
Arsenal were acting according to what they understand to be Suárez’s contractual status and the Uruguayan last night again insisted that there is a formal agreement that he could go. “I have the club’s word and we have the written contract and we are happy to take this to the Premier League for them to decide the case but I do not want it to come to that,” he said.
“I don’t feel betrayed [by Liverpool] but the club promised me something a year ago just as I promised them that I would stay and try everything possible to get us into the Champions League.
“They gave me their word a year ago and now I want them to honour that. And it is not just something verbal with the coach but something that is written in the contract. I’m not going to another club to hurt Liverpool.”
The clause is sufficiently ambiguous to leave doubts over how the stalemate will be resolved. Suárez’s camp saw £40m as the threshold price at which Liverpool would have to sell, something that was publicly revealed by Arsenal’s £40,000,001 bid.
The bid, though, tested the clause and revealed that Liverpool saw £40m as the point at which they must start to negotiate, not the point at which they are obliged to sell. The PFA has been consulted about potential mediation in the search for a solution.
The letter of the law is one thing, the spirit of the law is another. Suárez clearly feels let down by what he sees as a broken promise. Nor does he speak lightly; the doubts continue over the best way to proceed. Suárez says he was reluctant to reach this point. But he believes that the message that has come out of Anfield has not always been entirely true and that being portrayed as someone who just wants out has not always been fair.
Brendan Rogers, the Liverpool manager, insisted that he had spoken to Suárez and publicly claimed that the Uruguayan understood and accepted the club’s position. Those were remarks that surprised the striker when he saw them. The two men had indeed spoken but when they did Suárez made it clear that he wanted to go and felt that he was entitled to do so.
Liverpool fans argue that having supported him through thick and thin, mostly thin, they deserve greater loyalty. The club and most supporters backed him when he was charged with racially abusing Patrice Evra andbiting Branislav Ivanovic. Walking away is no way to repay that. Two suspensions have led to two lengthy absences that have hurt his club – 18 games in total. He still has six games of a 10-match ban to serve.
And yet the reaction of fans over the past few days has been far from rejection, even now, even with his determination to depart so clear. Suárez played at Anfield on Saturday and took part in an open training session held at the stadium on Monday. Both times he was cheered by supporters. They appeared to have decided that they would do all they could to persuade him to stay. Nowhere would he be embraced like this.
But he disputes suggestions that he has lacked loyalty and says most fans would understand his position. His performances allow him to build a case: 51 goals in 96 appearances, 30 last season. In terms of talent, or commitment on the pitch, few doubt him. The problems have been elsewhere. He also notes that Liverpool could make an enormous profit on the £22.8m they paid Ajax for him in January 2011. Besides, loyalty cuts both ways and he was swift to paint his decision as a purely professional one.
“They defended me, just like I defended them on the pitch. The players have always supported me and I’m grateful for that. It’s the same with the supporters. I got a great reception at the weekend and I am grateful. I don’t think the supporters are angry – I think they understand a player when he has the ambition to triumph at the highest level.
“When you are at a club for as long as you are together you stick up for each other but that does not give the club the right to go back on their commitment.”
Last summer Suárez turned down the chance to move to a Champions League qualifier, understood to be Juventus, and he is not prepared to wait another year.
“I’m 26. I need to be playing in the Champions League. I waited one year and no one can say that I did not give everything possible with my team-mates last season to get us there.”
He continues: “It is not as if I am asking to move to a local rival. And I would not consider moving to a club outside the Champions League. I have made my desire to move known in private various times and now it feels like the time for me to make it public.
“I have to put my career first. People say Liverpool deserve more from me but I have scored 50 goals in less than 100 games and now they could double the money they paid for me.
“Liverpool will always be special for me: my daughter was born here. [Last summer] was the moment to show my loyalty to Liverpool and I did. [Liverpool] gave me my chance in England and stood up for me throughout my ban. I know I have made mistakes in my time here but I have apologised lots of times. This is not about that. This is about the club having agreed to something both verbally and in the contract which they are now not honouring.
“People may accuse me of showing a lack of loyalty but last season we told Liverpool there was interest from a top European club but they told me: ‘We’ve got a new coach and we’re going to push for the Champions League.’
“I spoke with Brendan Rodgers several times and he told me: ‘Stay another season, and you have my word if we don’t make it then I will personally make sure that you can leave.'”
Now the story has changed. “Liverpool is a club with a reputation for doing things the right way,” Suárez says. “I just want them to abide by the promises made last season. Some of [my team-mates] say to me: ‘We cannot understand that if you have it signed that you can’t leave.'”
But that is not the only story that has changed. Arsenal’s interest and Suárez’s apparent willingness to move to the Emirates sits uneasily with his previous insistence that the problem resided largely with the English media: London is in England too. Anonymity may prove easier in London than Liverpool but that is not an explanation Suárez offers for the contradiction. He instead suggests that it was merely the inevitable answer to an inevitable question. In any case, he says this is about football, not infamy.
“I was asked a question: ‘Would I want to play for Madrid?’ It’s like anyone asked if they want to change jobs and move to a bigger company. Everyone aspires to the highest levels and all I did was give an honest answer: ‘Yes, I would.’ On the same day I gave that interview Pepe Reina said the same thing about Barcelona and nobody mentioned it. But if I do it then it means I am disrespecting Liverpool. It has always been the same: one rule for me and another for everyone else.
“I had just arrived in Uruguay where the press are very good to me because I am one of theirs,” he continues. “They asked me about the press in England. What am I supposed to say? Of course I don’t like the fact that my wife goes to the supermarket and there are photographers. But I realise that the press attention is the same wherever you go.”
The bid from Arsenal stings, though. Suárez’s response is simple: “My priority is Champions League football. This is about me doing what is right for my career at this moment in time.
“Right now the Premier League is the biggest and most important league. My record shows that I’m not the kind of player who wants to change clubs every season and I would have no problem playing in England for many more years. If we are just talking about the level of the football and the way the supporters are then it is an incredible league. Any player in the world at the moment would like to play here.”
But it is a different league, the Champions League, that hangs heaviest: this is a theme to which he returns often. “I feel I have done enough to be playing in the Champions League at this stage of my career,” he says. “Now there is an option for me to do that and I want very much to take it. I went a long time at Ajax without playing many games in the Champions League. I am ambitious, I want to be there.”
Liverpool continue to be adamant that the Uruguayan is not for sale and have scoffed at the offer made by Arsenal. But Suárez’s decision to speak out, a decision he has been contemplating for a while, may change the situation.
The club’s principal owner, John W Henry, spoke at a supporters’ event in Oslo, where Liverpool play Valerenga on Wednesday without Suárez who is injured. His comments followed a statement which denied he and Tom Werner were negotiating the sale of the club. “I don’t know why people ask us if we are selling the club or the best players, because we are not,” Henry said. “We like to buy stuff, not to sell.”
Rodgers, answering questions before Liverpool’s game in Norway, responded to more queries about Suárez by insisting the club’s position had not changed. “Luis picked up an injury in the open training session at Anfield yesterday and along with a number of other players we decided this game was too much of a risk for him. He will have a scan.
“I will tell you what I have been saying all summer — he is an incredible player. We have had a couple of bids from one club which has been no where near the valuation of what he is worth in this market, so there is no change in that. We have no intention of selling one of the best players in the world to one of our rivals. Luis is very much a Liverpool player and there is no real value in discussing it unless someone comes close to the valuation.
“Luis is a wonderful player, but this is a bigger project than just him.”