- Premier League
No lessons learned from Suarez history
This is all starting to feel vaguely familiar. If the build-up to Luis Suarez's seemingly inevitable exit from Liverpool mirrored that of his departure from Ajax - the wonderful goal-scoring form, the suggestion that he cannot fulfil his ambitions at his current club, the sudden taste for human flesh - then the act of it may well draw from another chapter in his career.
On the surface, Arsenal's reported bid of £40,000,001 for Liverpool's best player is a sly dig, a cheap shot, a light dash of humour in the otherwise po-faced gloom of the transfer market. That is certainly how John W. Henry - Liverpool's increasingly absentee principal owner - took it, judging by his response to the offer on Twitter.
Appearances, though, can be deceptive. Arsenal are not messing around. Their bid was not a joke. It was, as Brendan Rodgers might say, all part of the dance.
There is a clause in Suarez's contract at Anfield - signed just last summer, lest we forget - which deals with what happens in the event of an offer arriving for the striker which exceeds the nice round figure of £40 million.
Liverpool believe that clause stipulates that, should such a bid arrive, they are duty-bound to consider it and, whatever decision they reach, to inform the forward that he has been the subject of an offer. Quite how this differs from what normally happens is unclear.
Suarez's representatives - most notably his agent, Pere Guardiola - see it rather differently. They believe that if Liverpool receive an offer over and above that £40 million watermark, the club have to allow Suarez to speak to his suitor. They do not have to accept a bid, but by granting permission, one presumes they open a de facto negotiation with the buying club and give Suarez the chance to establish whether he wants to push for a move. Quite how this differs from what normally happens is unclear.
It is baffling that such a situation can arise, in which a document that is - one imagines - supposed to be legally watertight could contain a clause which is open to such vastly different interpretations, and it is equally confusing as to quite why a club or a player would insert what appears to be such a pointless stipulation.
That said, this does appear to be the summer of ineffective clauses, as Arsenal know all too well. After all, Arsene Wenger's team have a buy-back option on Cesc Fabregas that allows them to match any offer that Barcelona receive for the midfielder and gives them first refusal should Fabregas tell the Spanish side he wants to return to North London. Again, quite what this accomplishes is anyone's guess.
Regardless, ours not to reason why and all that: The clause does exist, and so does the confusion over what it means. And so Arsenal - presumably encouraged by Guardiola - took what they, quite understandably, viewed as the only step that would help them establish quite what the situation is, and submitted a bid of over £40 million. Only just over, but still.
Liverpool, as was to be expected, stood by their interpretation of the clause and rejected the offer; judging by Henry's response, Arsenal may have damaged their hopes of holding amicable talks with the Anfield side should they choose to return with a higher bid in the coming days and weeks.
That may not matter. Suarez has been in this situation before. When his first European club, Groningen, turned down an offer from Ajax for his services in 2007, the player engaged his legal team and took his club to court.
He did not win the case, but he had forced Groningen's hand. When Ajax returned with a better offer - not exactly an extortionate one, but a better one - they felt compelled to cut their losses and accept. Arsenal's bid, likewise, may have been designed to give Suarez the ammunition he needs to force a move out. He had already been in touch with his lawyers before news of the offer broke.
This is, whoever you support, a sad state of affairs. It is sad because it means Suarez's relationship with Liverpool will end on a sour note. It is sad because the club, who stood by him even as he threatened to drag their name through the mud, will see their support thrown back in their face.
It is sad because it offers an indictment of the reality of modern football, that a player will do all he can to avoid handing in a transfer request so as to remain eligible for all of the loyalty bonuses inserted into the contract he is trying to break.
It is sad because this saga could drag on for much of the rest of the summer, and there is nothing more mind-numbing than an incremental transfer soap opera, where every day brings no light but so much heat.
It is not just sad for Liverpool, because - make no mistake about this - it could happen to any club, such is the power that players hold. It might not be Manchester United or Manchester City or Chelsea or Arsenal this time, but should any of those teams spend more than a year out of the Champions League, they can expect to find themselves in exactly the same position.
It is sad because others may learn from Suarez; it is sad because it offers a window on how little players value the teams they play for and the shirts they wear.
But mostly it is sad because football simply does not learn. Clubs increasingly resemble partners trapped in unhappy relationships, convinced they will be different, that they will be the one, that they can take the bad boy and make him good, that they can take the journeyman and make him stay. They cannot.
Suarez has already forced his way out of two clubs - Groningen and, to a lesser extent, Ajax - and seems to be at least paving the way to crowbar his way from a third. He is a Champions League player, and Liverpool are not a Champions League club. It is understandable that he wants to go. But should the manner in which he is trying to achieve it not raise a red flag at the Emirates?
There is no morality in football. That is no great surprise, no great revelation. Liverpool were widely and rightly chastised for their handling of both Suarez's major transgressions in English football, but that they reacted in such a way is not a curiously Scouse thing; circling the wagons - and possessing fans whose loyalty is blind and forgiving - is not unique to Merseyside. The vast majority of clubs would have responded in exactly the same way; if you believe your club is different, you're a dreamer or a fool.
Likewise, it is not just Arsenal who would consider buying someone with such a chequered past. Manchester City have made their interest plain to Suarez on a number of occasions since the incident in which he racially abused Patrice Evra at Anfield. Chelsea - given the John Terry incident - would find it hard to scramble onto the moral high ground. Manchester United have overlooked players attacking a fan and missing a drugs test. Maybe there is a line, somewhere, but it is blurred, indistinct.
Arsenal being prepared to overlook ethical considerations is one thing - a necessary, if unpalatable, reality - but their ability to turn a blind eye to Suarez's transfer history is more worrying. He has already forced his way out of two clubs - his departure from Ajax was less acrimonious but just as compulsory - and now seems to be paving the way to do the same to a third.
This prompts a question that, at some point, Arsenal really should have asked themselves: What's to say he won't do the same to us? Even if he leads them to a Premier League and Champions League double, there is always going to be someone who will offer more money, more glamour, more sunshine.
Why would they be any different than Liverpool, than Ajax, than Groningen? What makes them think they will be the exception? Even if they are prepared to spend all that money to bring Suarez to the Emirates, despite all of his baggage, is signing him not a guarantee of trouble down the road? This feels familiar already. It is hard to escape the idea that Suarez, and his clubs, are condemned to repeat history, time and again - less as tragedy, more as farce.