It’s hilarious, embarrassing, tinpot, shocking and downright absurd from whichever angle you look at it from. In some cases, it’s all of the above. Yet, what’s universal, is that it didn’t work. Oh boy, how it didn’t work.
In case you’d forgotten, here is the general gist of what happened.
ON THIS DAY: In 2013, Arsenal bid £40,000,001 for Luis Suárez to trigger his Liverpool release clause.
Every little… nope. ? pic.twitter.com/Es4rSbN2vC
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 24, 2017
At the end of the 2012/13 season, Arsenal had yet again managed to squeeze their way into the Premier League top four, finishing one point above the folk just up the Seven Sisters Road. It was the eighth campaign on the trot where the club finished either third or fourth, and supporters were harking for one meaningful injection of quality to put them back into title contention.
They’d come close(ish) on occasion, but a truly world-class striker may have been just the ticket.
Luis Suarez had just come off the back of scoring 23 league goals in 33 outings, but unable to help Liverpool finish higher than seventh – humiliatingly, that season, below their own rivals, Everton.
Rumours of unrest on Merseyside for the Uruguayan had Europe on red alert; he was in immense form, but the Reds didn’t appear to be the club capable of matching those talents.
What do you think they’re smoking over there at Emirates?
— John W. Henry (@John_W_Henry) July 24, 2013
In came Arsenal. Talk of a £40m release clause seeped its way into the Emirates, with it believed a bid matching that amount could spark a rather monumental cross-league transfer. So that’s what they did, with an additional pound thrown in for good measure. It was thought that would allow them to speak to the player (even though Arsene Wenger has since admitted a deal with the player was agreed).
Turns out that wasn’t the case, at all, and the rest of the English game laughed hysterically at Arsenal’s flaccid attempt to sign one of the division’s best players.
Which brings us neatly on to this article.
In a parallel universe, what if Arsenal did sign Suarez? What if that bid, or a marginally higher one, did the trick? What if, indeed.
Let us delve into such a scenario.
Well, the obvious one is the signing itself. What change would’ve been brought about if Arsenal secured their man?
From a non-footballing perspective, there would have been wholesale changes among the club’s fanbase. For years they’d been imploring their side to invest heavily, having seen the magnificent early Wenger years fizzle out to nothing more than ash – with a fourth-place finish the impermissible crowning glory of each season.
Had Suarez been acquired, a renewed sense of optimism would have been prevalent around the club, with the ambitions of the fans seemingly weaving together with that of those behind the scenes. Could Arsenal be considered genuine challengers for the Premier League once again? It certainly might have felt that way.
On Liverpool’s side, it would have been a monumental loss to take. Just three years prior the club had found themselves under new ownership, with promises of a ‘new era’ on Merseyside set to unfold.
Ridding themselves of their talismanic forward would’ve left fans with a Fernando Torres induced sense of déjà vu, and whatever ambitious claims were made in 2010 would have been deemed folly. While the 2012/13 season was not what the club had intended, further additions that summer to complement Suarez were planned in order to maintain their goals of returning to the Champions League after three seasons away.
The Immediate Impact
Guess where Arsenal finished that season? Precisely. Now while there are a couple of factors to account for here, adding one of Europe’s most lethal strikers to any side, let alone Arsenal’s, is naturally a sweeping improvement.
What’s key to note, though, is that Arsenal went on to spend £42.5m on Mesut Özil that summer. Would they have signed both? Unlikely, Wenger opted for Yaya Sanogo instead of Suarez. Naturally.
As a squad, there would have been an undeniable lift, and as a fanbase, there would have been vastly differing mentality towards their side’s fortunes. Would they have lost on the opening day to Aston Villa? Hard to tell, but the dark cloud that hung heavy over the club’s transfer debacle had a severe impact on the credibility of the club’s hierarchy, and the fans weren’t best pleased neither.
Liverpool, meanwhile, were in the process of rebuilding. Brendan Rodgers had the backing of the owners to take this side up to the next level, and Suarez was pivotal to that. Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet were the only major incomings – neither for huge fees – as the ethos of what Rodgers was trying to achieve was kept mostly intact.
Maintaining the core of the side over the summer and fine-tuning where needed was Rodgers’ plan, and one he was backed to do. The idea of removing Suarez from the equation wasn’t even considered, but had it of happened, all Rodgers had been building towards would have crumbled before his eyes.
Daniel Sturridge and Suarez were forging one of the finest partnerships seen in the top flight, with each player very much the yin to the other’s yang. Suarez may not have scored in either of the club’s opening three victories, but Sturridge scored in all of them, and he wouldn’t have without his strike partner.
The Ripple Effect
Would Liverpool be the Liverpool they are today? Yes, they would, don’t worry, I’m not going there. Yet, it might not have been just so simple.
Of course, we’re well aware of just how close the Reds came to lifting the title that season. It was within their grasp. The obvious point to make is that, without Suarez, they wouldn’t have even come close. Say they had gone the 2013/14 season with another seventh-place finish, would Rodgers have been kept around for longer? Probably not.
Which, in turn, means would Jürgen Klopp have been enticed by the project of a club who’d finished in seventh, sixth, eighth and seventh places in the previous four seasons? Again, impossible to tell, but you can’t doubt that Klopp saw an opportunity given their exploits during the 2013/14 campaign. Equally, would they have provided the same allure for potential players?
Liverpool’s stature in world football always makes them an intriguing proposition, but having failed to push up into the top four for (potentially) five seasons, maybe not quite as much. However, it would be wrong to hinge their current success entirely on them keeping hold of Suarez that summer, and while it may have been a different path one way or the other, you’d expect them to have followed the same path they have done.
For Arsenal, it’s been touched on, but it’s highly unlikely Özil would have joined the club that summer. Asking the club to spend £85m in a single summer after spending roughly £110m over the last two summers would have been a big ask. Those occasions themselves were major outlays by the club’s standards, so you wouldn’t think so.
Considering the club did go on to spend big the following year – on the likes of Alexis Sanchez – there is good reason to think that deal wouldn’t have come off, either.
On this day five years ago, Luis Suarez bit Chiellini and pretended he accidentally ran in to his shoulder with his teeth.
— 90min (@90min_Football) June 24, 2019
But, perhaps, they would have anyway?
How long would they have held onto Suarez? Working on the basis he’d go on to bite Georgio Chiellini in the summer of 2014 and be banned from football for four months, it’s more than likely that the Gunners would have been forced to follow Liverpool’s suit and sell him to Barcelona. So, in this case, they could have signed Sanchez for free with an added cash injection and used the finances elsewhere.
In terms of the rest of the league, Arsenal’s seven-point gap on champions Manchester City could well have been wiped out, while Suarez’s fierce adversaries Norwich may well have stayed up had it not been for him ripping them to shreds. There’s also the possibility – based on the previous season’s results – that Liverpool finished outside the top four again.
And who would have sneaked into fourth that term if that was the case? Everton.
Arsenal fans will tell you that if they signed Suarez they’d have won the league that season. Very hypothetical indeed, but not an obscenely wild assumption to make. So, in that sense, they’d win. Pretty conclusively.
Working on the same trajectory – y’know, biting and whatnot – he’d only have been there a season. But it would have been worthwhile one if they had secured the ultimate prize.
Well, If they won the league, what about Wenger? It would have ended a ten-year wait for the title, probably got disheartened Arsenal fans back on his side, and he may very well still be in the hotseat. It certainly would have bought him even more time if he’d claimed a league and FA Cup double.
Moving down the line, Everton would have seriously profited – working inside these hypothetical parameters, of course. What would Champions League football have done for their fortunes? Granted, they’ve still spent a shedload of money on bang average players, but elite European football might have widened their scope across the market. They’d probably still have got it wrong, mind you.
Daniel Sturridge had the most prolific season of his career that term, and while Suarez was a key component of that, perhaps the chance to shine up front as the ‘main man’ may have seen his ability reach the height it was thought to be capable of? One can only speculate.
Who loses in all this? Liverpool’s somewhat new owners’ credibility would have taken a significant knock, for starters. Their fans would have turned on them, and the rosy picture that’s painted on Merseyside might be more akin to the works of Edvard Munch than the Michelangelo-esque setting we’ve got now.
One player who certainly would have lost out is Sanogo. The gangly French striker was plucked from obscurity by Wenger in the hopes of unearthing another Emmanuel Adebayor, but, no offence to him, he was shockingly bad. Like, woefully.
One goal in 20 outings was all he produced, with even a loan move to Ajax prompting Ronald de Boer to claim he has ‘no useful qualities’. It was his big move, but it wouldn’t have happened in Suarez came to the capital instead. Sanogoals in England for him.
Brendan Rodgers is another big loser in all this. Sure, they would have tried to reinvest the money into a new striker, but whoever they brought in, they weren’t Suarez. He was moulding his team around the Uruguayan’s talents and losing a player of his quality would likely have seen him lose his job sooner.
Speculating as we have here has coughed up a few scenarios. Working on the basis some of them came off, then the ramifications of Suarez’s move to Arsenal would only really have affected the following season.
The biting fiasco would still have gone on as per, meaning his stay in the Premier League would have still been cut short.
Nevertheless, would Wenger still be at Arsenal? Would they have clawed back the seven-point deficit on City? Would Liverpool’s sudden emergence as a league title contender still have come into effect and enticed Klopp to take the job?
Who knows. But we love to ponder the ‘what ifs’ of life, don’t we?
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