By Greg Stobart
The latest chapter in the stormy relationship between Liverpool, Luis Suarez and Manchester United is set to unfold on Sunday and it could potentially be the last, with the Uruguayan forward set to consider his Anfield future in the summer amid renewed interest from Manchester City.
Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the Reds’ owners, fear Suarez will seek to leave Merseyside in the summer if the club fail to qualify for Europe, despite the player signing a long-term contract worth £100,000-a-week in the summer.
Suarez has been in stunning form this campaign, scoring 15 goals in 20 Premier League appearances - but Liverpool are just eighth in the table and seven points behind fourth placed Chelsea having played one game more than the Blues.
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It leaves Liverpool in a dilemma. Brendan Rodgers would be loathe to lose his star man - a player capable of leading the team towards a regular place in Europe’s elite competition - but he also realises the need for funds to re-invest in the squad with FSG unwilling to provide him with a substantial transfer kitty.
Liverpool are also well aware of the implications of Suarez being represented by Pere Guardiola, the brother of former Barcelona coach Pep. He intends to take on a new job in the Premier League next season after a year-long sabbatical in New York, potentially at Manchester City where there is already a strong Barcelona influence in the boardroom.
City have made signing one of Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao their top priority - but manager Roberto Mancini is a huge admirer of Suarez's abilities and expressed his interest in the former Ajax man last year.
One issue is whether the Italian will even be in charge at City come the summer, especially if they fail to retain their Premier League title, with Guardiola and potentially Jose Mourinho available in the summer.
Txiki Begiristain, who was appointed as the club's director of football in October, will increasingly take control of transfers and is planning a summer overhaul of the team's strikeforce.
Mario Balotelli is almost certain to leave, potentially this month, with AC Milan the most likely destination for the temperamental striker, whose relationship with Mancini has reached breaking point in recent months.
Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez could also be sold in the summer if they attract appropriate bids as City prepare to upgrade their forward options, with the prospect of a South American dream team including Suarez, Cavani and Sergio Aguero their ideal strikeforce.
While City are mindful of Uefa's financial fair play rules, they have learned the lessons from a poor summer in the transfer market and are prepared to pay big money for stellar signings.
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City are one of the few clubs in the world who could afford to sign Suarez, provide him with a significant wage increase and give him the opportunity to challenge for league titles and European glory.
The simple fact is that Liverpool are several years away from competing for major honours and Suarez is at the peak of his game, a player who deserves to play in the best club competitions.
Rodgers is targeting a top-four finish this season, which would be enough to convince Suarez to stay at Anfield, but the Reds face a tough task in finishing above the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and even local rivals Everton.
Suarez will have to decide in the summer just how much he is willing to push for a move away from Anfield to fulfil his career ambitions - but there is a potential storm brewing and there are many people at Liverpool who do not expect him to be at the club next season.
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