Controversy is never far from Luis Suárez's door and he once again dominates the headlines with his desire to leave Anfield – a quest likely to continue to be played out in public. And, as things stand, Liverpool are faced with some serious dilemmas.
Well aware that the latest offer tabled by Arsenal of £40,000,001 is still below the going rate for a player of Suárez's standing and that the contents of the clause triggered by the lightly ridiculed amount is yet to be fully understood, the Anfield club are not quite yet forced into a corner. Inevitably, though, there are still twists and turns to come – especially as another Arsenal target, Gonzalo Higuaín, this week sealed a £35m move to Napoli, leaving Suárez as the only top-class forward for the Gunners to chase and likely to provoke an increased bid.
Thus the chances of Liverpool escaping from the ongoing saga with Suárez as a motivated member of their playing squad are getting slimmer by the day; so too is the likelihood of the club ending up ahead of the game, with bargaining time – and quality replacements – fast running out.
With hindsight one may question whether the Liverpool management should have prepared for the sale of Suárez much earlier. After the events around his ban last season many predicted that he would want to leave, but Liverpool now may have missed the boat when it comes to cashing in to the maximum on their prized asset.
As any reader of this column will know, this transfer period has seen an unprecedented number of high-profile forwards changing clubs for close to record figures. I'm quite convinced that one or two of the clubs who have already secured a star striker this summer would have entered the race for Suárez (and provoked a bidding war) had they received some unofficial signals – through trusted agents and intermediaries – as regards his possible availability.
Generally it would be a player's agent who would test the waters as regards any possible interest – with the good of his client at heart, naturally, but not necessarily the club's. For that reason, a club may want to sound out potential buyers themselves – very discreetly – to protect their own interests by providing themselves options and thus being in control of the transfer process. However, having seemingly been unable to gracefully and covertly insert Suárez into the active early market, Liverpool now appear taken by surprise by a development that was always likely to happen.
That leaves Liverpool with a quandary that originates in the very nature of the bid on the table – one from a direct rival – and, even more so, in the lack of prospective competition for Suárez's signature. There's speculation that Real Madrid may still hold an interest in the player, yet the off-the-record noises coming out of Santiago Bernabéu suggest that Florentino Pérez and Carlo Ancelotti have shifted their target to Gareth Bale, if indeed they intend to make any late addition to their already substantial summer spending. Which leaves Liverpool with just the one feasible buyer – one that they would not want to sell to.
As things stand the only way Liverpool can come out of the current transfer predicament with any joy is if Real Madrid – or another cash rich club who emerges out of the blue – enter the market with a bid around the same figure of what proves to be Arsenal's final offer. Selling a world-class forward – in my opinion Suárez is among the top 10 players in the game – to a direct Premier League rival would not only be a massive blow to their prestige, but also practically forfeits any chance of fighting the London club for a Champions League spot.
There's still a faint possibility that Suárez will wear the Liver bird again after he serves his suspension. Backed by their American owners, Liverpool can theoretically stomach the inevitable drop in market value by keeping Suárez at Anfield against his will until the January transfer window or even next summer – just as the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, denied Luka Modric a £40m last-minute move to Chelsea in 2011.
While Spurs' hard-ball stance was eventually vindicated as they managed to receive a satisfactory amount for Modric from Real Madrid a year later, adapting a similar strategy to a fierce South American hell-bent on a move might prove very high risk (the way he forced his acrimonious move from Groningen to Ajax immediately springs to mind).
Even on the best of days, the volatile Suárez needs careful handling. Not only do Liverpool need to keep their main man perfectly motivated to perform to his maximum but also in a fairly balanced mindset to prevent him from succumbing to his dark side once again (a relapse to old antics will see his market value dropping even more). Despite three years left on his contract, an agitated, want-away Luis Suárez is the very last thing Brendan Rodgers needs around the training ground at Melwood.
That's why Suárez's history, character and persona arguably makes him a different case to previous instances in which high-profile players have publicly fought their clubs over career choices. The tempestuous Uruguayan is less likely to knuckle down harmoniously than, say, the placid Modric – a fact of which Liverpool are uncomfortably aware.
Regrettably, when a professional footballer genuinely wants to move on in pursuit of a transfer he considers a career upgrade – not merely angling for a new contract – he can quite easily (with the assistance of his agent) find ways to put his current employer in checkmate. When push comes to shove a contract offers more comfort to a player than a club; if a player performs below expectations the paperwork offers the club very little in terms of reducing the wages or get-out clauses. The only option is cutting your losses: paying up the contract or selling at a loss. A player, however, even when not totally committed, deliberately or not, to his club – which then reflects in his performance – will face no reduction in salary or other direct financial consequences, bar possibly the odd bonus payment.
Liverpool might have one last card to play: immediately offering Suárez an improved contract exceeding the £200,000 per week he's likely to pick up elsewhere, possibly with a clause that allows the player a move to a foreign club in the event of an offer above a negotiated amount. That still gives no guarantee of a happy outcome, but at least it would buy time and leave them with a chance of hanging on to one of the best footballers in the world – Suárez is understood to favour a move to Spain – and Arsenal with the impossible task of finding an a similarly talented forward late on in the summer market.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive, formerly the chief executive and sporting director at Monaco. He has previously worked as a scout for Grasshopper, Watford, Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover and Zenit St Petersburg and as sporting director for Fredrikstad FK