It has been a long five-month wait for Luis Suarez but football’s enfant terrible is back.
It is hard to think of another player who splits opinion as much Suarez. Loved by Liverpool fans, though their affection was severely tested during the recent transfer window as the Uruguayan sought a move away from Anfield in search of Champions League football, he is equally loathed by many other supporters and neutrals.
Suarez is eligible to play for Liverpool in the League Cup - England’s third tier competition - against Manchester United on Wednesday after completing a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanonic.
Given Suarez’s history with United –- his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra and then his refusal to shake the French international defender’s hand on his eventual return to action –- the Liverpool striker, if he plays at Old Trafford, is guaranteed a hostile reception. He probably wouldn’t want it any other way.
Suarez’s rap sheet is a lengthy one.
There is the racism dispute, the lengthy bans, the biting, the diving and the deliberate handballs. When it comes to football’s dark arts, the 26-year-old Suarez is a master practitioner.
And yet, and yet….amid the darkness lies a footballer of unparalleled genius.
There’s the non-stop work rate, the quicksilver feet and the goals - 23 of them in 33 Premier League appearances last season. No wonder Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was willing to stump up 40 million and that solitary pound during the transfer window to sign Suarez.
And he's not just nifty with his feet and teeth. A recent appearance in an advert for a Uruguayan bank suggests Suarez possesses a gift for comic timing – and an ability to laugh at himself.
It’s a package of gifts –- football rather than thespian - that makes Suarez arguably one of the world’s top five players, a prized asset Liverpool’s owners were determined not to sell to one of their domestic rivals.
"What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?" tweeted Liverpool owner John W Henry, mocking Arsenal’s bid for the Uruguayan, unhappy at the London club’s seemingly detailed knowledge of Suarez’s contract.
Liverpool’s former technical director Damien Comolli is in no doubt the club made the right decision to keep hold of Suarez.
“If I had still been at Liverpool I would have done everything to keep him,” Comolli told CNN. “As you say he’s in the top five of the world’s best players.
“That calibre of player is very difficult to find and why so many clubs were interested in him. Don’t forget Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is an astute buyer in the transfer market. Why else would he have wanted to have signed Suarez?
“When I was at Liverpool at no point did we ever think of selling him. He’s a fantastic lad - the way he trains, the way he always gives 100% and the way he has often carried the team.
“What we loved about Suarez was that he had everything - creativity, finishing and commitment. He wants to play, he wants to work and he wants to win.
“When Suarez is in your team the opposition aren’t going to bully you, whether you are playing home or away.”
But how do Liverpool supporters view Suarez’s impending return?
“I think Liverpool fans are savvy enough to realize that Suarez is a world-class player and given the club's current standing - now into a fourth season without Champions League football –- players of his ilk are difficult to attract and replace,” said Gareth Roberts, editor of Liverpool fanzine Well Red.
“If he comes back into the side and picks up where he left off last season, I think the nonsense over the summer will be quickly forgotten about.
“I certainly don't envisage him being booed - if anything many Liverpool fans seems keen to show they still support him. That said, plenty are unhappy with how he conducted himself over the close season and rightly so.
“Most of the supporters I speak to wouldn't have begrudged Suarez a move to one of the truly big clubs abroad - I'm thinking Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich,” said Roberts.
“Had any of those clubs come in for him and paid $80 million plus for him, I don't think we could have complained too much.
“Once Arsenal came knocking that was a different story. It felt like a challenge to Liverpool's status, and it made little sense to improve a rival while simultaneously weakening your own side. John Henry came out of it very well.
“It was good to see some strong leadership at Anfield. I still think Suarez will go, perhaps as soon as January. But not to Arsenal, and hopefully not to any other side in the Premier League.”
Liverpool have coped relatively well in Suarez absence. Brendan Rodgers’ side are fifth in the Premier League table – two points behind leaders Arsenal - while striker Daniel Sturridge has revelled playing as Liverpool’s lone striker, scoring four goals in five games.
Indeed there is a school of thought that Liverpool might have been better to cash in on Suarez. When the Uruguayan played in the team last season their league win percentage fell from 42% to 36%.
When he came back from the racism ban, Liverpool won just one out of their next 10 games, while Sturridge is twice as prolific when he is the sole striker.
Comolli remains sceptical about those statistics, arguing that the sample is not big enough to draw firm conclusions from and that they also don’t reveal the difficulty of the opposition or whether games were played home or away.
"Liverpool have got some very smart people looking at the numbers," said Comolli.
Roberts added: "Results have certainly been good when he isn't in the side, but I don't think that tells the whole story.
“Suarez is capable of things few footballers in the world can do and as a fan, that is what you pay your money for.
“I think perhaps Suarez has felt there is too much responsibility on his shoulders to win games in the past and has tried to do it all on his own.
“Perhaps now, particularly if he comes into the side in a deeper role as has been suggested by Rodgers, we will see a better Liverpool team with Suarez in it.”
Over to you Luis…..