Luis Suárez is close to sealing his preferred move to Barcelona after the Catalan club held a “productive” first meeting with Liverpool and offered around £70m for the controversial forward.
Barcelona’s determination to clinch a deal for the Uruguayan was confirmed during talks between their director of football management, Raul Sanllehi, and Liverpool’s chief executive, Ian Ayre, in London on Wednesday. Rather than seek a drastically reduced fee for a player banned for four months for biting the Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, Sanllehi’s opening bid was in the region of £70m.
The fee falls short of Liverpool’s initial £80m valuation, and has not been accepted, but both sides appear convinced a deal can be done after their face-to-face negotiations over the 27-year-old. Barcelona are believed to be willing to pay a straight cash sum for Suárez or to include Alexis Sánchez as a makeweight, as Liverpool had requested.
However, the Chile international has given no indication he wants to move to Anfield and Suárez’s transfer is unlikely to be concluded until the winger has decided whether to join Liverpool, another European club or to stay at Camp Nou.
A second round of talks has not been scheduled but negotiations will continue over the coming days, with Liverpool close to getting their asking price for Suárez after cordial and constructive talks with the delegation from Barcelona. A Liverpool source said: “The talks were productive. There were sensible expectations on both sides and there will be further discussions to take place. But nothing is finalised as of now.”
Suárez is banned following the bite on Chiellini, subject to an appeal from the Uruguay football association, but a transfer is allowed in that period.
Liverpool will now await an answer from Sánchez, and hold further dialogue with Sanllehi, before finalising the terms of Suárez’s long-held desire to move to a Spanish club. His wife’s family are based in Barcelona and that has influenced his preference to join a rebuilding job under Luís Enrique rather than a move to the European champions, Real Madrid.
Suárez signed a contract extension until 2018 worth £200,000 a week with Liverpool in December, albeit with a release clause designed to eradicate the problems that erupted over his thwarted attempt to sign for Arsenal 12 months ago. The latest controversy surrounding the striker and his ban, one that would suspend the striker from the first 13 matches of Liverpool’s season, has not reduced the Anfield club’s price tag on the striker and Barcelona accepted that stance during the meeting with Ayre.
The Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, continued his club’s flattery of Suárez on Wednesday when praising the forward for publicly apologising for biting the Italy defender despite his initial claim to Fifa that he fell into Chiellini teeth-first.
Following tributes from the sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta, on Tuesday, Bartomeu said: “He [Suárez] did something that wasn’t right so it’s the responsibility of everyone in football, be it Liverpool or anywhere else, to remember that he has said sorry. Admitting you have done something wrong is very important.
“Luis has apologised and that is honourable, he’s taken a step towards rehabilitating, the football world should support him and help him. As a football fan I hope he can turn a corner.”
As for Barcelona’s interest in Suárez, the president added: “I announced months ago that the team would undergo a deep renovation but we cannot reveal details because we don’t want to give clues away to any of our rivals. Our representatives are constantly travelling to other countries because of potential signing.
“Suárez is a Liverpool player so I can’t talk about him, he belongs to another team, a rival team. But we are all football men, and saying sorry is honourable, it helps the competition.”
Liverpool have spent £40m this summer on Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Emre Can, have deals lined up for Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic, and Brendan Rodgers hopes to reinforce his defence with Dejan Lovren and Ryan Bertrand.