It's hard for me to follow the ongoing Luis Suarez transfer saga without my mind wandering to Sergio Leone's spaghetti western masterpiece, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo for those hailing from Europe's stiletto). As the nearly three hour epic comes to a close, Blondie ("the Good"), Angel Eyes ("the Bad"), and Tuco ("the Ugly") cross paths one last time in a Mexican standoff to determine who goes home with the gold. After a summer dominated by one of the most obnoxious transfer dramas in recent memory, it's finally time for Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Arsenal to settle the score.
The Good: Unlike last year when the club bungled Brendan Rodgers's first transfer window at Anfield, Liverpool opened this summer with quick, quiet work in securing the club's early targets. Since then, Suarez's uncertain future has essentially taken the club's transfer dealings hostage. By all accounts, the club has money to spend regardless of Suarez's potential sale and, equally, the need to bring in support across the back four is independent of the Uruguayan. Having said that, an influx of 50 million pounds would play a huge role in deciding what tier of defenders to pursue, while still leaving enough cash to fill a 30 goal chasm at the top of the team sheet.
Thus far, Rodgers has played the situation perfectly and seems to have really grown into his role as the face of the club, new teeth notwithstanding. The player has a price, Arsenal haven't met it, and if the Gunners don't meet it soon, the player will be staying to honor his long-term contract. While Arsenal and Suarez are working to leverage the "you can't keep an unhappy player" routine, Liverpool does have some leverage of its own.
Despite its poor form, Uruguay is still very much alive for next summer's World Cup. The "sulk and self-imposed exile" strategy taken to new heights by Javier Mascherano (immediately after the 2010 World Cup it's worth noting) isn't available to Suarez and Pere Guardiola this time around. Whatever club he plays for next season, current employers included, will absolutely be getting the same intensity and on-field commitment we've seen from Suarez over the past few years. With three years on his contract, the club can afford to keep Suarez through the season and move him on next summer without settling for a lower fee.
Meet his fee, or move on.
The Bad: Well, Madrid stole Paris Saint-Germain's manager, but couldn't have him until PSG found a new manager, which meant Madrid couldn't sort out the future of Gonzalo Higuain and PSG couldn't pursue Edinson Cavani. Right, so PSG plunged into chaos before finally announcing Laurent Blanc as manager; allowing them to make Edinson Cavani the new scourge of France's tax ministers. Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti closed his move to Madrid and subsequently let Higuain go to southern Italy to replace Cavani and eat pizza. Madrid has room for a striker, and it's time for Ancelotti to either fish or cut bait in response to Suarez's awkward, thus far one-sided courtship.
There are far worse things for Liverpool than moving Suarez to the foreign power for a big-time fee, and it seems like the striker's petulance has even pushed some fans to seeing this as the best outcome.
What can't happen however, is Ancelotti checking the "maybe" box and letting the saga drag on through the end of August when he gets sick of dealing with Daniel Levy. I'm a firm believer that the transfer window should close before the start of the season, and the sincerity of Rodgers's claim that Liverpool has an earlier deadline for Suarez's transfer could very well be tested by the time this is done.
Suarez eating tapas in early August and Liverpool getting 50 million pounds to reinvest is not such a bad conclusion. Suarez frantically boarding a private jet on August 31st while Liverpool counts its money until January threatens the entire season.
The Ugly: Without actual games to entertain me, the sunny months are usually spent mercilessly ridiculing Gooner buddies over the sale of Arsenal's best player and the reemergence of Niklas Bendtner like a determined venereal disease. While I haven't been denied the latter joy of summer, the former could yet be turned into a nightmare as Arsene Wenger is apparently ready to conduct his back-to-school shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue instead of the local flea market.
At first, it seemed like Arsenal's interest in Suarez was merely a coy negotiating tactic in the club's bid to lure Higuain to London. Madrid didn't blink and were rewarded by Napoli's improved compensation for the Argentine striker. With the available top strikers settling down to other clubs, Arsenal now stands a legitimate chance of losing this game of musical chairs and finds itself in a potentially desperate situation.
This desperation presents an interesting variable to the Suarez saga. On the one hand, Arsenal has been bidding against itself, raising Suarez's fee that Liverpool could then gleefully accept from Madrid. On the other, Wenger doing the unthinkable and actually paying 50 million pounds for Suarez would put both Liverpool and the player in difficult positions.
For all intents and purposes, the sale would crush Liverpool's Champions League aspirations while cementing those of its London rivals. Suarez, meanwhile, would be stuck answering questions as to how trading Liverpool for the English capital moves him away from the media hordes that he claims to be the motivating factor behind his decision to leave.
While I don't know how this standoff will end, I do know that it will be a defining moment in Rodgers's Liverpool career. Standing toe-to-toe with names like Wenger and Ancelloti is a big opportunity for the young manager to firmly convince Liverpool fans that he's the man for the job.