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Suarez Wins Supporters' Award

At the Emirates Stadium last night, a strange thing happened that proved the existence of redemption. Luis Suarez, who has been such a hate-figure at grounds across England, won the Football Supporters' Federation Player of the Year Award. No, really. That happened.

Everyone has enjoyed the Suarez rain...
Everyone has enjoyed the Suarez rain...
Paul Gilham

If you've ever been unfortunate enough to have been crushed by the rejection or departure of a lover you'll be sadly aware that the saccharine array of clichés and maxims employed by well-intentioned loved ones in the aftermath of a ruinous split is as tragically otiose as it is irritatingly cloying. When one is trying to gather together the shards of a shattered heart, vacuous expressions and clucking efforts at empathy are monumentally futile. You're broken. A husk of humanity, quite alone in your solipsistic misery.

That Luis Suarez threatened to inflict that kind of desolation on Liverpool supporters, who'd been so one-eyed and partisan in their devotion to the errant striker, has been a source of some discomfort amongst the faithful in recent months. Many of us, damaged still by the searing hurt of abandonment inflicted by the defection of Fernando Torres, have been cagey, wary of fully embracing Suarez since his flirtation with Arsenal in the summer.

The thing about hopeless love and adoration, however, is that it is unconditional and since his return to the first team, some five games into the season, Suarez has been in the form of his life, with a remarkable 17 goals in only 11 Premier League appearances. The hurt, then, has been forgotten by most, as all revel in the magnificence of the Salto man's form. Foolish, myopic romantics that we are, we have fallen for him a second time. He is quite literally irrepressible, a compact bundle of unfading energy and mesmeric skill. Whilst eminently capable of scoring the ugly goals, almost every one of his strikes seems to showcase his sublime ability and vision in the opposition penalty box and environs.

If Suarez carried Brendan Rodgers' side on his puissant shoulders for the opening half of last season, then since the turn of the year, surrounded by a better class of player, he has thrived. As he watched Daniel Sturridge emerge as the go-to-guy at the beginning of this campaign, Suarez did not sulk on the sidelines. Having been put in his place by FSG's hard-line stance on his sale, the Uruguayan has shown impressive mental fortitude and resolve. By far the most impressive footballer operating in the Premier League currently, Suarez is on track to destroy goal-scoring records despite having missed the opening five matches of the campaign.

Ah yes, the five matches. Part of a larger bundle, missed because of one of what he endearingly and euphemistically referred to last night as his "difficult moments." Suarez' entire career has been blighted by such moments, when the perception of his brilliance is compromised by an act of lunacy -- his fondness for a spot of human picnic fare, his spontaneous goalkeeping displays and, most worryingly, the ill-advised judgement calls which have allowed a notoriously sanctimonious English press to justifiably question his moral fibre.

Football, however, offers endless opportunities for rebirth and reinvention. The brebis galeuse can become the all conquering hero. The enfant terrible can reinvent himself as a noble espouser of moral values. Players embodying other French expressions can also undergo monumental change! It's a wonderful cycle of possibility!

Last night, as your penman perused the images filtering through from the Football Supporters Federation Awards, he was filled with a kind of childish glee. There were many reasons for that. Like most passionate Reds, I always enjoy just recognition of those who wear the Liverbird. The fact that it was a supporters' organisation made the award far more poignant. It's been disheartening to hear the moronic booing of Suarez at so many grounds around the country over the last two seasons.

So many of those expressing disdain did so in a Pavlovian response to media conditioning. The press have turned a complicated and flawed man into a two dimensional foreign devil, systematically undermining the values of the English game. Something must be done! Won't somebody think of the children?! Well, something has been done. Those very fans who had been fed this line in media hypocrisy voted Johnny Foreigner the best player of the calendar year. They're right, of course, but that doesn't make the fact that it happened any less remarkable.

To see Suarez, resplendent in his tuxedo, smiling for photos with the likes of Henry Winter, that stalwart of the moralistic guff brigade, was a salutary lesson in the possibility of change and the potential for altering any given reality. Of course, the catalyst for that shift in perception has been the utterly beguiling on-field brilliance of the player himself. In stark contrast with the preening likes of Cristiano Ronaldo -- who yesterday opened a museum in honour of Cristiano Ronaldo -- Suarez, as he has always been, was a model of humility in the face of adulation.

"Coming back to play at Anfield was unbelievable because after so many difficult moments for me I was able to win the supporters back," he insisted. "They helped me, and that was important for me, for my confidence, and for my family, because they are together with me in this. I have to thank my team-mates for this award because if Liverpool don’t have these players I cannot continue my level, because it’s too much. If we continue at this level over the next two or three weeks we can win the league or we can definitely finish in the top four."

Beauty and joy are rare commodities in life. Few are blessed enough to enjoy them on a regular basis. Right now, Liverpool fans are in the privileged position of watching the world's form striker perform in red.  For now, this scribbler is going to completely abandon the moral quandaries, jettison the baggage of heartbreak and revel in the beautiful madness of the Luis Suarez Show.

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