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When Quality is Obvious

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Moving to a new club, a different league, one universally considered to be both much more physical and of a much higher quality. Coming off the six week absence of a ban for nibbling at an opponent, and having since his arrival played sparingly on account of his ineligibility in the Europa League and the continuing magic of the FA Cup that seems to come around every second weekend now. Coming in with high expectations where so many other have failed.

It would be easy to make excuses; easy to take time to settle in. After all, Joe Cole, Liverpool's big signing from six months previous, the toast of the London media who was talked up in some quarters as the savior of Liverpool--and a man on a more than 30% larger wage packet--still hasn't come anywhere close to making a difference for the club. Beyond the obvious statistics, there exists an obviously contrasting pair of players: one who scores goals, creates chances, shows a phenomenal workrate, and can be surprisingly unselfish for a man third behind Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo in total goals scored in the 2010 calendar year. The other often appears selfish and lazy, determined to beat the same man from a standing start with flashy footwork until he finally loses out through his lack of pace, and unwilling to pass to open teammates in better positions.

That Joe Cole continues to get chances to find his mystical form one imagines can only be due to his massive wages and a need to make him at least desirable for next year's borderline Premier League sides. Clubs such as West Ham or QPR, so the theory goes, might be willing to take a flyer on Joe Cole as some kind of prestige signing over the summer if he could just manage a few good showings on the bounce. If you do try to look at it as anything but putting an overpriced bauble up in the shop window, you're faced with the relative lack of opportunity for another player largely looking in from the outside in Milan Jovanovic, another player brought in on a free and paid far more per week--he's reported to be in the same £70k range that Suarez is--than his return so far would suggest he's worth. On at least somewhat lower wages and with less hype he's been largely left to rot, but even then he has still received a handful of chances--and while he has appeared to have a decent workrate, he hasn't shown a whole lot more than that.

People can say about the likes of Jovanovic and Cole, "Well, they need minutes; they need game time; they need the chance to find form and fitness." However, the question made stark by Suarez' class is what possible good would come of these players actually finding something like their maximum potential? Suarez hadn't played a game in six weeks, was coming to an unfamiliar league, and after playing as much as Joe Cole since his arrival has scored goals like yesterday's against Sunderland and put on dominating performances like that of two weeks ago against Manchester United.

stats comparison

Sometimes, then, quality is obvious. Readily apparent. Sometimes you either just have it, or you don't. And if you subscribe to the idea that players need long runs of consistent minutes to find their top form, then the potential for Suarez when he currently has as many excuses for rustiness and lack of form as Joe Cole does--or as Milan Jovanovic did at times earlier in the season when he was getting at least occasional playing time--is downright frightening. Of course, the converse is that if Suarez can do what he does now, with all those built in excuses and reasons why he maybe shouldn't look anywhere near as good as he does, then it's hard to imagine Joe Cole or Milan Jovanovic could ever be anywhere near his level as a player, no matter how many matches in a row they started.

All of that isn't to say that players don't need time to find top form, because they quite often do. It is simply to say that if some of Liverpool's underperforming and overpaid fringe players had anything like the ability to make a major impact at the top level, they would have shown something more than they have by now. They may not have had a tonne of chances, but they have still had chances, and while it would be unfair to assume we had seen their best, it probably isn't unfair to assume that if they were capable of making a real difference and controlling a match we would have seen clear signs of that.

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What does that leave for some of the current dross drifting around the edges of the squad? Well, even if based on past performances one assumes that the best of a player like Cole or Jovanovic is nowhere near the worst you could reasonably expect from Suarez week in and week out, there's still room for water carriers--not every role and position needs a superstar with attacking flair filling it, and in fact a team likely couldn't operate with only those sorts of players on it. Every team needs graft and hard work, and different roles can at times demand less obvious skill-sets. Certainly on the graft and hard work front, players like Dirk Kuyt have made careers out of being solid, diligent professionals with enough skill that on form--and on a team managing decent form as a whole--they can be valuable members of a starting eleven. Perhaps that's even the kind of level one might hope for of Jovanovic if he got some decent minutes, that he might make a quality addition to the teamsheet alongside the likes of Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez. It's hard to imagine seeing much more than that, though, which makes one wonder why on earth a manager actually would choose give Jovanovic the minutes to get to that point when players fit and on relatively solid form filling those roles are already on the squad.

It's hard to imagine where that leaves a player like Cole, too, since he seems to still fancy himself a superstar, or else simply is incapable of playing a game that doesn't involve him dwelling on the ball like a geriatric version of Ryan Babel. In his case, even finding something like form and fitness doesn't seem as though it would do an awful lot of good for Liverpool. After all, even a slightly better version of today's Joe Cole is still a largely ineffective flair player, a foolish luxury for any struggling side and a surplus spare part for anybody else.

If fitness and form was the only problem, it would at least already be clear that there was something there to polish into diamond through added minutes. Such was certainly the case with Alberto Aquilani in his limited playing time towards the end of last season when, lacking fitness and coming off a year-long injury rehabilitation odyssey, he still managed to make the side look better whenever he did get the chance. Such is quite obviously the case right now with Luis Suarez.

Already, after only five matches, it doesn't seem crazy to think that in the current market--and in a January transfer window no less--Liverpool may have gotten a steal when many at the time were worried they might be overpaying. For the first time perhaps since Fernando Torres came along he's shown fans what real, superstar quality in a newly arrived attacking player looks like, and much as it can be a cliche in sport, for certain roles and certain types of players sometimes it simply comes down to that you either have it or you don't. And Luis Suarez certainly has it.