The last 23 years as a Liverpool fan have been fallow in terms of league titles, although other forms of silverware have arrived at a reasonably regular rate. However, one thing that Liverpool have been blessed with in that time - and indeed, going back many further decades - is outstanding strikers. And few have been better than the current No.7.
Luis Suarez is a genius. That phrase may be overused in football circles, but the Uruguayan deserves that title. He is unique: he does things that no other player dare imagine. And on top of phenomenal skill he has the work-rate of a journeyman whose total lack of skill means that all he can do is run and run and run.
Suarez is not a "silky" player. He doesn't necessarily make what he does seem easy, because he's not upright and stationary in the manner that some of the game's geniuses; he's usually hunched over as he chases a pass or a lost cause as if a pack of wolves is in hot pursuit, and he often seems off-balance when he dribbles past countless defenders, even though he still repeatedly dribbles past countless defenders. Suarez is not the sort to stand and admire his own pass. Indeed, most of the time he's trying to get on the end of it.
Liverpool fans have been blessed in terms of witnessing outstanding strikers in all shapes and sizes. In the '40s and '50s Billy Liddell was an absolute idol, although wartime and the fact that the Reds slipped to the second tier removed the kind of recognition he may otherwise have garnered. He was still a regular in the late '50s, although he did play on until 1961. By 1961-62, Roger Hunt was the main man, scoring 40 goals in 41 league games.
Hunt remained incredibly prolific throughout the '60s, but was perhaps overshadowed nationally and internationally by Jimmy Greaves, who was an extraordinary finisher. That said, Hunt remains Liverpool's record league goalscorer, with 245 goals.
As the '70s dawned Hunt gave way to Kevin Keegan, as Bill Shankly tore up his successful but ageing side. Keegan certainly did win plaudits around the world, although it took a move to Hamburg in 1977 to make him the double European Player of the Year, despite have powered the Reds to the European Cup in his final season. Out went the great Keegan, and in came the sublime, godly Kenny Dalglish. How often do teams lose their best player and go out and buy someone even better?
Ian Rush then emerged from the reserves, to partner Dalglish, and broke records until 1987, at which point John Barnes, John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley took over. Barnes was a genius, Beardsley a lock-picker and Aldridge a consummate poacher, with the trio racking up a ton of goals.
Rush returned, and while not as prolific as in his youth, his all-round play was a joy to behold. It was this maturity that helped him usher in the emergence of Robbie Fowler, who was perhaps the most naturally gifted finisher of them all; although Rush himself was still scoring in excess of 25 goals a season in all competitions before the emergence of the Toxteth teenager in 1993.
In 1989 it looked a harsh decision to jettison Aldridge for Rush. But although Aldridge averaged 30 goals a season in all competitions in his two full campaigns, 27 per cent of his goals (16 of 63) were penalties. And while you can only commend a striker who also takes good penalties, it could be that you possess a right-back or central-midfielder who takes even better ones. So while Rush MKII never quite matched Aldridge's tallies, it's fair to say that 26 goals from open play is a better indicator of striking ability than 30 with only 21 or 22 from open play. By contrast, Roger Hunt only scored one penalty for the Reds, while Ian Rush managed just three, meaning that over 99 per cent of the goals by Liverpool's two most prolific strikers were not free shots at goal with the opposition behind a white line.
By 1996, both Rush and Aldridge seemed like distant memories with Robbie Fowler in his pomp. Like Aldridge he too took penalties, although they only accounted for 11 per cent of his goals. (It was actually under 10 per cent first time around, with three of his eight goals as Fowler MKII coming from the spot.)
Fowler wasn't that quick, and he wasn't that tall. He clearly wasn't an athlete. But he had an uncanny ability to work the space for a shot, and have it nestle just within the right part of the side netting. However, injuries took their toll, and within four years he was struggling to find his old form. It says a lot that he's still revered after just four seasons at his peak, although he still contributed 17 goals in the treble season of 2000-01, before his move to Leeds a year later. But by 1997 a younger, much quicker model was rolling off the production line, as the English game became more about pace.
Michael Owen was never quite as prolific for Liverpool as the hype suggested (19 league goals was his best tally, compared with the 28 of Fowler and 32 of Rush), but he did possess an incredible record for England, and was a very important component in Gérard Houllier's counter-attacking side that won four cup competitions. Liverpool have had better strikers before and since, but while Owen never reached 30 goals a season, and never managed 20 in the league, it's also true that he rarely played 30 league games a season, and therefore his strike rate was consistently impressive. Just 8 per cent of his goals were from the spot, although he did have a fairly low conversion rate.
Like Fowler, injuries started eating into Owen's ability to excel, and in 2004 he left for Real Madrid, three years after being crowned European Footballer of the Year.
Then came the only real break in quality: three years without a genuinely outstanding striker, with Rafa Benítez committed to accepting an inheritance of Djibril Cissé and Milan Baros (who both had their moments), and whose first big-name purchase, Fernando Morientes, failed to cope with English football. Peter Crouch was a handful, and Fowler even made a brief return, but none was especially prolific.
This three-year period coincided with two Champions League finals and FA Cup success, plus the highest league points tally since 1988, which shows that getting the balance of the team right can make a huge difference, and that it's not all about star strikers. That said, you'd always want an outstanding No.7 or No.9 than a mediocre one, so long as the team's game doesn't become one-dimensional as a result.
In 2007 Fernando Torres arrived, and although the trophies dried up, he was regarded as the best centre-forward in the world during his peak at Anfield. Like Owen, he suffered too many muscle injuries, and had the Spaniard played more than 24 league games in 2008-09 (in which he still scored 14 goals), Liverpool might have racked up a few more than 86 points and taken the title. A year later he only managed 22 league games, but still scored 18 times, although he never looked as good once Roy Hodgson took charge.
No sooner had Torres' star started to dim than Luis Suarez arrived. If Torres was more prolific - he needed fewer shots to score his goals - then Suarez has proved to be the superior all-round player.
Torres, like Rush and Owen, relied on pace, whereas Suarez takes the devilish work-rate of Keegan and adds some of the vision and toughness of Dalglish and the impudence of Fowler. And now that Suarez is getting close to replicating his Ajax and Uruguay scoring form, we can feel truly blessed.
Like Hunt, Rush and Torres he hasn't boosted his tally with penalties, but unlike those greats he has the ability to curl in free-kicks from distance, with five scored already this campaign. And while Suarez is clearly a hugely emotional player, who wears his heart on his sleeve, he never displays the moodiness that arguably affected Torres' later appearances. He never gives up, and that can be infectious. If your best player works hard, there's no excuse for the rest of the team.
Suarez is clearly the key factor in Brendan Rodgers' reshaped front line, but he's not on his own, particularly after a successful January transfer window, two years after Suarez himself was a January signing.
Philippe Coutinho has come in and excelled in his first two league starts - a goal and two assists, all achieved as part of individual dribbles - and Stewart Downing has beefed up on the wing. Raheem Sterling had an excellent first half of the season, although having only turned 18 in December, is enjoying some well-earned downtime (in first-team terms) as his body learns to cope with the demands.
Going forward, Liverpool are a joy to behold right now, and only the best teams in the league appear to be able to do anything about it. The balance isn't yet quite right - although the return to fitness and form of Lucas will help - but it looks a lot better than earlier in the season, when things weren't quite working as hoped. There have been forward steps this season and backwards steps, but now the positive is starting to outweigh the negative, and it's possible to get a sense of a team starting to go places. But having extolled the virtues of Suarez, there is one other striker to get excited about.
After over five decades of almost consistent top-class striking talent adorning the first XI, Liverpool may have procured yet another outstanding striker this year. To my mind, Daniel Sturridge has almost everything necessary to be a phenomenal forward.
Teenage prodigies appear to be the holy grail in football but quite a lot of players only click into gear between 22 and 25. In a sense, Sturridge fits both categories: he was a fantastic teenager, but his development was clearly arrested.
In around 15 years of following Liverpool's youth football fairly closely, I've probably seen a handful of players who looked so good that it would be a shock if they didn't make the grade. That started with Owen in the '90s, with the most recent example being Sterling. In between, Jack Wilshire wowed in Arsenal's midfield in the 2009 Youth Cup final, against a Liverpool side including Jack Robinson, Andre Wisdom, Daniel Ayala, Thomas Ince and Alex Kacaniklic.
In that same class I'd put Daniel Sturridge who, in the second leg of the 2006 Youth Cup final, stood head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch, despite being just 16 at the time. Liverpool may have won the competition, but Manchester City clearly had the future star. I wrote on many occasions how pleased I'd be if Liverpool could snaffle him away from City, but he went to Chelsea instead.
(As a quick aside, none of Liverpool's players in the successful 2006 and 2007 sides are currently playing Premier League football, while Sturridge, Micah Richards and Danny Welbeck featured in the teams the Reds beat in those finals. To me, it highlights what a good team spirit and professional attitude Liverpool's youth sides had back then, but without doing what it needed to do: produce first-team players. The overhaul in 2009 has certainly rectified this, and rather than win FA Youth Cups, the Reds are now producing first-team players.)
At 23, Sturridge has shown at Liverpool that he's ready to be a star. After a promising breakthrough at City (but where he was never first choice), he perhaps chose the wrong option in going to Chelsea, where politics appears to play a part in who plays. He had shown on loan at Bolton (eight goals in 12 games) that he was capable of transferring his talents to the highest level, and excelled under Andre Villas-Boas in the first half of last season when back at the Bridge, but he was never the big-name striker that the owner seemed to demand in the team.
Chelsea's loss is Liverpool's gain. Sturridge has skill, pace, power, reasonable height and a sweet left-foot, plus a coolness in front of goal. It seems that all he needed was someone to put their faith in him, and at Liverpool he has that. At City the club were starting to spend big money on major names, and at Chelsea there was Drogba and then Torres.
Going forward it's all coming together for Liverpool. Yes, the big wins have been against the sides in the bottom half of the table, but the Reds troubled Manchester United, Arsenal and City in spells of varying length.
Given the age of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling - and the evergreen nature of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson (the best progressive full-back in the league) - I can only see Liverpool's attacking getting better with time, experience and practice (although it's never 100 per cent guaranteed).
And if the attacking can be improved due to individuals, pairings, trios and quartets being more devastating, then the balance of the team can be stronger, as not as many men will need to go forward for each goal scored, which in turn protects the back four. Get that right, and top four could be possible next season.