Gary Neville has labelled Luis Suarez a “nasty little player”, but admits the Liverpool striker is “exactly the kind of player you would want in your team” ahead of the Sunday afternoon clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Uruguay international has been in sensational form for Brendan Rodgers’ side this season, scoring 15 Premier League goals and inspiring his side after a difficult start to the season.
And while Sir Alex Ferguson’s former captain and right-back believes the 25-year-old has made mistakes and has been rightly punished, he feels if the striker is given time and patience, he can develop into a “great player”.
“Opposition fans despise him and he would be a nasty little player to go up against,” he wrote in the Daily Mail. “I know that if I was up against him at Old Trafford today, there would be a confrontation.
“But I’ll tell you something else: he’s exactly the kind of player you would want in your team. And, as a fan, you would love to see him on your side.
“When I look at Suarez I see one hell of a footballer – this is no show-pony. This is a player who doesn’t know when he’s beaten.”
Sir Alex recently described Suarez as “laden with controversy” after the striker handled the ball scoring against Mansfield in the FA Cup, and was banned for eight games last season for racially abusing Patrice Evra.
However, Neville feels Suarez has been unfairly castigated, partly because of the amount of money he earns, and is not the “cheat” many make him out to be.
He continued: “He has been in England for only two years. He’s still adjusting. This is a kid who grew up playing football on the streets in Uruguay.
“I understand why some people will never like him. The racial abuse he directed at Patrice Evra is totally unacceptable in England. But he has served his punishment for a big mistake.
“I’ve never heard the word ‘cheat’ used so cheaply as in recent weeks by former players and pundits. What happened against Mansfield was an injustice. But it wasn’t cheating.”
And in order to fulfil his potential and avoid becoming simply a talented controversy, Neville suggests Suarez should look at the example set by United’s Robin van Persie, who leads the Liverpool forward in the goalscoring charts by one strike.
“Robin van Persie is the best striker in the country,” he added. “Most people would regard him as a very good professional. But when he was a 20-year-old at Feyenoord he had a controversial reputation.
“It took time to develop into the model professional. But you are dealing with a human being with a unique set of experiences and motivations, not a robot. And if Suarez can do the same, he has the potential to be a great player.”