Liverpool have given the first indication that Luis Suárez’s future lies away from Anfield by agreeing to open talks with Barcelona over the transfer of the disgraced striker.
The Spanish club have not been deterred in their pursuit of the Uruguay international by the four-month ban from all football-related activities that he received for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. It is understood a delegation led by Barcelona’s director of football management, Raul Sanllehi, will meet Liverpool’s chief executive, Ian Ayre, in London on Wednesday for the opening round of negotiations over the 27-year-old.
Liverpool remain adamant Suárez will be sold only should a club meet a release-clause of around £80m that was included in the £200,000-a-week contract he signed in December. Their valuation has not altered since Suárez bit an opponent for the third time in three years, although Ayre is expected to register Liverpool’s interest in the Barcelona winger Alexis Sánchez being part of any transfer at the meeting with Sanllehi.
Sánchez is valued in the £30m region by Barcelona but whether the Chile international would be interested in a move to Anfield and what the Catalans are prepared to offer are yet to be determined. There have been no negotiations between the clubs over Suárez before now despite Barcelona’s obvious courtship of the Premier League’s leading goalscorer.
Barcelona are believed to have encouraged Suárez to go public with an apology for biting Chiellini amid concerns over how his prospective transfer would be received. The apology and U-turn from Suárez duly followed via social media on Monday, six days after the incident, and club employees were fulsome in their praise of the striker’s actions on Tuesday.
Speaking at the unveiling of the midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona’s sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta, said: “Suárez has shown he is humble enough to admit an error, which is very important. He has been humble enough to apologise to those he has affected, because it happened in the middle of a festival of football. In this case it’s the best thing a person can do. ”
The former Barcelona and Spain goalkeeper added: “Everyone knows that Luis is an excellent player, everyone knows last season he played in various positions in attack, but everyone also knows that he is a Liverpool player.”
Rakitic also saluted Suárez’s “character and strength” and claimed the forward “has the necessary quality to play for Barça”.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will attempt to upgrade their defence following the £25m signing of Adam Lallana by finalising interest in the Southampton centre-half Dejan Lovren and the Chelsea left-back Ryan Bertrand this week. The Anfield club’s summer spending reached the £40m mark on Tuesday when the England midfielder Lallana completed his protracted move. He joins his former Southampton team-mate Rickie Lambert plus the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Emre Can, £4.5m and £9.85m deals respectively, and there is likely to be further cause for alarm at St Mary’s once Brendan Rodgers commences the overhaul of his defence.
The Croatia international Lovren is the Liverpool manager’s leading central defensive target and is believed to be keen on a move to Merseyside despite rival interest from Tottenham Hotspur, now led by the former Southampton coach Mauricio Pochettino.
Liverpool’s attempt to sign Alberto Moreno remains at deadlock with Sevilla demanding £20m for the left-back, £4m above the offer on the table, and insistent that their financial problems have been alleviated by Rakitic’s sale to Barcelona. That has prompted Rodgers to rekindle his interest in Bertrand, who impressed the Liverpool manager on loan at Aston Villa last season. He will test Chelsea’s resolve to keep the 24-year-old, following the departure of Ashley Cole and their having missed out to Manchester United on Luke Shaw, with an official approach this week.
Rodgers is also pursuing Benfica’s £25m-rated Lazar Markovic and Lille’s Belgium striker Divock Origi as he looks to bolster Liverpool’s options for their return to the Champions League next season.
Lallana sealed his transfer after Southampton accepted Liverpool’s final £25m offer for the attacking midfielder. Bournemouth, for whom Lallana played until he was 12, will bank around £6.25m from the midfielder’s transfer as they were due 25% of any future sell-on fee.
The 26-year-old said: “Watching the run-in towards the end of last season was unbelievable, not just for myself but everyone involved in football. It got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up just watching them, and the style of football they were playing.
“Deep down, I was thinking to myself: hopefully one day I’ll be able to play in that team. That dream has become a reality now, so I can’t wait for that to get started.”