Reports began to emerge yesterday evening from Spanish reporter Gerard Romero that Aston Villa have been in contact with Atletico Madrid striker Luis Suárez over a reunion with Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho.
Of course the initial reaction from the majority of Villa fans across social media was excited rumblings of "we're massive" and "Stevie G is getting the band back together". I do agree that even being linked with players like Luis Suarez (especially in the immediate aftermath of signing Coutinho) is extremely exciting for a club who's previous January signings included the likes of Tom Carroll and Borja Baston, but the reality of the deal would probably not be as exciting as most people would imagine it to be.
As with any potential signing the first question has to be - How will they improve the team? There's no denying that Suarez is a proven goal scorer at the highest level and neither Danny Ings nor Ollie Watkins have overly impressed when it comes to goal tallies so far this season. However there's a huge asterisk which needs to be addressed when it comes to Ings and Watkins and that is the neverending conversation about how the two can't play together yet continue to be forced to week after week. This leads me to question whether Suarez would be played as a lone striker which seems to fit Gerrard's system the best or whether we'd sacrifice balance once again in aid of forcing two strikers into the starting eleven, I feel it would more likely be the former. With that in mind, does Suarez as a replacement for both Watkins and Ings improve Aston Villa? Not for me, and here's why.
Let's open with the most pressing issue, in five days time Suarez will be turning 35 years of age. Thanks to inhuman machines such as Christiano Ronaldo, Thiago Silva and even to a lesser extent Karim Benzema, the conversation surrounding players in their mid thirties has shifted drastically in recent times. That doesn't mean however that every star player can continue to perform at a high level just like those mentioned. Unfortunately Suarez does fall into that latter category as a quick look at his more recent stats shows a drop off this season at Atletico which has resulted in him being rotated more often with Griezmann as João Félix takes the reigns as their first choice striker. The most concerning stat is his complete lack of pressing which we already know Ollie Watkins has in abundance. Suarez finds himself among the bottom 1% of strikers when it comes to pressing across Europe's top five leagues (credit to @pgr_analytics for that one) and that's a stat that will not change if he comes to Villa Park.
There's an argument to be made that you can build a team around a non pressing player but that team is not Aston Villa. We need not look any further than our very own Danny Ings who is already playing a very similar role to what Suarez will likely offer Villa. Both players slowly jog their way through 90 minutes while waiting for that one chance to strike, and to their credit, both men are much more likely to bury those chances than say Ollie Watkins. However this season has clearly shown how that style of play does not suit this Villa team. Ings often finds himself completely isolated in most games even if he does take his rare chances when they're presented. Watkins on the other hand tends to be in the game a lot more when starting as a lone striker and leads the line with his incredible work rate, making Villa look like a much bigger threat compared to when Ings plays in the same position. I agree, Watkins hasn't been clinical enough but he also hasn't had a long enough run in his preferred position this season to really prove his worth. Would Suarez as a lone striker really give us a better option than what we have now? Yes, he's undeniably an improvement on Danny Ings but it wouldn't benefit the team as much as developing Watkins in that same position.
This leads me to the business side of the deal and this is where it really falls apart for me. Both Watkins and Ings both cost Villa north of £30 million each.. Watkins with a view to be the next big thing and Ings for an immediate impact. Tossing both of these players aside like unwanted toys for a bigger name with many more miles on the clock makes zero sense from a business point of view unless it's purely for branding purposes. Though I'd argue having Gerrard and Coutinho at the club already covers the branding side of things but I digress. The hierarchy at Villa also need to start being wary of FFP. The Grealish sale of course means Villa have a bit of room for manoeuvre but signing a 29-year-old Danny Ings for over £30 million with little to no sell-on value only to replace him with a 35-year-old Suarez with zero sell-on value on huge wages sounds like a recipe for disaster, even if it is a free transfer.
We also need to consider the message a move like this sends to Ollie Watkins. I'm sure he's more than happy with competition and would have more than likely been excited to fight for his position against one of the league's best scorers in Danny Ings, but signing yet another star striker might risk Watkins turning his head, especially if his boyhood team Arsenal are interested as some reports suggest. Of course we have no idea what is going on behind the scenes, it could be that one of Watkins or Ings has already made an agreement to move away in the summer so Suarez as a replacement could be closer to an necessity than the team simply overindulging on attacking options. This is of course purely speculation though so probably isn't worth much more discussion.
Last but not least I can't help but feel a lot of people are remembering the fantastic player Suarez was in the Premier League but conveniently forgetting the controversy that often followed. Aside from his consistent diving (which he has openly admitted) and cringeworthy play acting, Suarez has also been caught biting opposition players on three separate occasions for Ajax, Liverpool and Uruguay. Worst of all was the incident in 2011 between himself and then Manchester United captain Patrice Evra in which Suarez racially abused Evra on the field of play. This led him to an eight game ban and a £40k fine and matters were only made worse when Suarez then refused a handshake from Evra in a return meeting in 2012. Needless to say, during his time in the Premier League Suarez was not the sort of player many would want associated with their football club. In recent years the player may have shown remorse for his actions and even stayed clear of controversy during his twilight years in La Liga but that doesn't mean we simply forget the past and roll out the red carpet which I'm worried Villa might do for a player of his quality.
In closing, no, I wouldn't want Luis Suarez rocking up at Villa Park neither now or in the summer on a free. Would my opinion change if we were to lose Ollie Watkins or Danny Ings? Maybe, but I can't help but feel there would be better options available to us in that situation. As things stand though, I'd much rather see Steven Gerrard nail his colours to the mast and pick a starting striker from the selection he already has and let that player earn his place, especially now Villa have the little magician working his magic, the exciting return of Leon Bailey on the horizon and Emi Buendia begining to fire on all cylinders behind whomever that striker may be. If that happens and both Watkins and Ings still fail to impress before the summer then maybe we open up the conversation about a new striker again then, for now though I'd much rather the club look towards a defensive midfielder and an extra centre back to help out at the other end!