A Waterford man, a Tipperary man and a Cork man are talking on WhatsApp. The Waterford man is a Liverpool supporter, the Tipperary man is a Manchester United supporter and the Cork man is a neutral supporter, slightly anti-United. What unfolded was a debate that continued to go around in circles.
The whole debate escalated around Luis Suarez and Robin Van Persie and which one is the better footballer. There is no need to guess which sides had specific favouritism for either Suarez or Van Persie; some arguments legitimate and others dismissed. The rivalry that exists between Liverpool and Manchester United forces a lot of fans to be blinded by their own preferences. So let’s put the debate out there; who is a better player, Suarez or Van Persie?
The footballing ability of both players is unquestionable with both players having a wealth of strengths and very few weaknesses. They are top class strikers who have delivered for their clubs and countries on numerous occasions.
They are slightly different players. Van Persie is a bigger presence with more power to his game. While Suarez is smaller in build and stature, he possesses pace and dribbling of a higher quality then the Dutchman. In terms of skill, both players have scintillating coordination with a ball at their feet. They have the ability to score all types of goals and are very hard to separate in this regard.
They are both excellent from set pieces. Both players have scored numerous top class goals from free-kicks. They also provide good deliveries from free kicks and corners. They have the ability to create goals as well as score. Van Persie may come across as a more emphatic finisher than Suarez such is the power in his shot but overall both players are great finishers.
So in terms of raw ability, both players are alike in a lot of ways. In terms of presence there is a slight difference but not enough to make one distinguishably better than the other. Van Persie may be better at holding the ball up, but Suarez is better at beating defenders. They break even in terms of their ability and whoever is better probably depends on what team people support.
Robin Van Persie; Premier League appearances – 253; Goals – 134, Ratio: 0.52
(since January 2011) Premier League appearances – 111; Goals – 80, Ratio: 0.72
Luis Suarez; Premier League appearances – 110; Goals – 69, Ratio: 0.62
They are the goal-scoring stats in the Premier League. Van Persie’s record since January 2011 takes Suarez’s arrival to Liverpool into account. He arrived during the 2011 Transfer Window for £23 million while Van Persie was still at Arsenal. It is probably fair to compare both players performances during this time span.
Van Persie has a better goal scoring ratio in that time and has scored more goals then Suarez. They have played a similar amount of games meaning that Van Persie’s injuries and Suarez’s suspensions seem to cancel each other out.
Suarez did have a phenomenal record in the Dutch league prior to arriving in England that could also be taken into account. He had four-and-a-half seasons in the Eredivisie compared to Van Persie’s three seasons and had a considerably superior record during his time there. Realistically their Premier League records are probably what should be compared. Van Persie edges it in the goal scoring stakes.
Van Persie has finished top scorer in the Premier League twice, while Suarez has done so once. They both have one PFA Player of the Year award to their name. Van Persie does have a Premier League title, but this required a move to Manchester United. Suarez’s achievements at Liverpool are very similar to those of Van Persie at Arsenal, so trophies are not a fair comparison, taking into account the extra seasons that Van Persie has had in England.
Suarez has won a league title in the Netherlands and he has won a Copa America with Uruguay, one of international footballs biggest stages. Suarez has since let himself down at this year’s World Cup while Van Persie has another chance to prove his worth on what many would classify as footballs biggest stage.
The three year age gap does give a slight advantage to Van Persie and he has had extra years to build his stats and honours list. Overall they are very even again. Van Persie has more goals, but an argument could be made that he has played in a better team, or others would be to differ. Again records seem to fail to really separate the two.
This appears to be the section that will separate both players. People will say that Suarez cannot be relied upon to be available to play. He has served three bans for biting opponents and another ban for racism. He has missed almost fifty games through suspension, an incredible amount of games. So while his talent is undisputed, he may not always be available for selection.
Van Persie’s injury situation has improved but in ten Premier League seasons, he has missed more than ten games in seven of them. Missing over ten games a season is a lot and last season certainly appeared to show a very poor attitude on Van Persie’s part. His rapid return from injury and the signing of Juan Mata seemed like a very strange coincidence. The constant rumours of unrest and desire to leave Old Trafford would make the stories very hard not to believe.
Suarez has shown that he is very hard to trust, but he has also showed awesome quality. Van Persie has shown a proneness to injuries but has shown that when fully fit, he is as good as anybody in the business. So they both have flaws in terms of their reliability. Suarez is more reckless in this regard but Van Persie can also miss a lot of games. So this does not necessarily separate the two either.
It is hard to get off the fence as a neutral in this debate as for every point in favour of one player, there is a counter-argument for and against the other leading to the debate often going around in circles.
Van Persie has proven more on the biggest club level, the Champions League and has the chance to prove a bit more at the World Cup. So far, in terms of specific football they are on a level par at this World Cup, with Suarez hitting self-destruct in another moment of madness, shifting the power in Van Persie’s direction.
Van Persie is very lucky to have another chance to take a step forward in this debate if he is to deliver in the semi-final of a World Cup, but then again, everybody forgets that Suarez did perform on the world’s biggest stage at the 2010 World Cup.
The conclusion is that both are great players. Personally I think Suarez is capable of more individual brilliance than Van Persie. If a manager had a poor team and was given a choice of either player, Suarez would probably have a greater capacity to win games on his own, provided he would not bite any of the opposition players.
If a manager had a team of top class players and was lacking one world-class striker, Van Persie may be a better option. He can lead a line and has shown incredible finishing when fed with sufficient service.
Overall they are both top class players and any manager in world football would be delighted to have either at their disposal. Suarez still has something to prove in the Champions League and in three years time, this question could probably be answered properly.
Anyway, feel free to add to this debate and see if people can genuinely say why one is definitively better than the other.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena