"I think he will only be at that level when he shows it on this particular stage."
Roy Hodgson, on whether or not Luis Suarez is a world class footballer.
Oh Roy, Roy, Roy. You are a terribly silly man, aren't you? After a season during which all of football had come, however grudgingly, to view Luis Suarez as worthy of inclusion in any discussion about the greatest current player on the planet, England's bumbling general, with a thoroughly hubristic sense of self aggrandisement, stubbornly refused to acknowledge the potential threat represented by Liverpool's kinetic talisman in advance of last night's clash in Sao Paulo. After his famed decades of experience, it is surprising in the extreme that this sage of the game, this sapient scholar of modern football, would be so remiss as to fall into such a trap.
The first seminar in Management 101 teaches prospective coaches to respect their opponents, to laud them, excessively if anything, playing up their positive attributes and insisting on the formidable challenge that they pose. Bob Paisley used to call this "giving them toffee," a few kind words of admiration and praise for your soon to be combatant which both displayed respect and flattered. Before the Dark Lord of Mancunia was credited with inventing everything in football, this was proper mind games, dressed in the delightful veneer of civility and decorum. Hodgson, one imagines, must have missed that class.
As the England camp wake up this morning with that exact feeling of dread and desolation which their captain had so actively urged them to avoid, they will survey the wreckage of this campaign and slowly come to realise what has been apparent to everyone except the coterie of nodding yes men that were responsible for installing and lionising Hodgson in the first place -- they will understand that it has been their manager's errant leadership and vision that has brought them to this sorry juncture.
Everything about England's set-up was wrong last night. The centre half pairing is not the best available to the country, neither were the full backs. The captain, such a source of positivity, drive and steely creativity for Liverpool in the latter half of the season with two mobile midfielders screening ahead of him, was hung out to dry in an unimaginative, lop-sided and frankly daft structure. The result was that Gerrard was ineffective in both matches and Jordan Henderson was served no better by Hodgson's myopic tactics, outnumbered as he was in the central area.
Ahead of them, Wayne Rooney was more effective than he had been against Italy without ever living up to his billing, Danny Welbeck was willing but inept and Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge huffed and puffed. The whole team was misshapen, as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to a potentially smooth-running machine and contorted it. If the Great Tactician of Halmstads had selected Adam Lallana to help out Henderson and insisted that Rooney play a role as one of a fluid front three, it might have been very different, but somehow we all knew what would happen here. Certainly, those of us who endured the dark Koncheskian days of Liverpool's recent history, when England's manager darkened the Anfield dugout, could only see an ineluctable tragedy playing out for the men donning the three lions.
Last night, however, was less about England's shortcomings and heartbreak than it was about the brilliance and vindication of Luis Suarez. This muscular, elusive and delightfully belligerent footballer, with a sublime touch and unrivaled eye for goal, stamped his authority and personality on the match in the same insistent way that he has done so often since he first donned the Liverbird. Despite six weeks out and undergoing knee surgery, Suarez was remarkable to behold, drawing on the deep reserves of will and energy so familiar to supporters of the Redmen. He could not have been near full fitness and yet the prodigious striker ran incessantly, sending a frisson through both the crowd and the England defence every time he gained possession.
An extremely passionate and emotional Suarez was dignity personified at the final whistle, celebrating with his teammates, of course, but only after consoling Steven Gerrard and his Liverpool colleagues. This was not the reviled madman of tabloid lore, the feral beast taunted by England's xenophobic red tops in the lead up to the match and since his introduction to the Premier League. Instead, we saw a proud man, reveling in his own ability and the joy it had brought to his country.
Of course, much of the nonsense that has filled the pages of British newspapers is a direct result of the immaturity, poor decision making and downright stupidity of the player himself, but since his reconciliation with Brendan Rodgers following last summer's unedifying transfer debacle, Suarez has been an altogether different prospect. He feels he deserves respect and acknowledgement for the changes he has made to his temprament and to his game. Today, has seen a desperate attempt by unscrupulous types to rekindle the less savoury aspects of the player's time in England but let us speak only of football. Last night, as he savoured the victory, he could be forgiven a hint of self-righteousness as he reminded the world of the context in which he had driven Uruguay to victory.
"I dreamt this, I dreamt this," gushed an impassioned Suarez. "I'm enjoying this moment, because of all I suffered, the criticism I received. So, there you go. It was one of the best games I've played. It's an amazing moment for me. Maybe a few days ago I thought this wouldn't be possible. Before the game too many people in England laughed about my attitude over the last few years. This is a very good time for me. I want to see what they think now. I was suffering from cramps more than 10 minutes before my second goal but something told me I couldn't leave the pitch. When celebrating my first goal, I had to go and thank our physio because if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been able to play in this World Cup."
As Luis Suarez savoured the spoils of victory and the sweet taste of vindication, still Roy Hodgson could not manage honesty. When quizzed directly once more as to whether the Uruguayan magician had proven he was was "world class," the England manager sullenly refused to grant him such status, claiming that whilst the first goal was "exceptionally good," the second was "a bit fortunate." As long as England labour under the illusion that Hodgson is a man capable of anything other than homiletic aphorisms and an uncanny knack for attaining a state just below mediocrity, they will be mired in disappointment and frustrated ambition. Luis Suarez, however, can still dream.