Saturday 24 June 2017

A biter, a fighter, but the future is brighter for Luis Suarez

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez celebrates his 30th birthday this week.
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez celebrates his 30th birthday this week.

Driven. It is the one word which comes up time and time again when discussing Luis Suarez.

There have been a number of other, less kind, descriptions of Barcelona's controversial striker but whatever his indiscretions on the pitch - and there have been many - one thing the Uruguayan cannot be accused of is determination.

From the moment he left home for Europe as a 19-year-old to be closer to his childhood sweetheart (now his wife) a sheer will to win got Suarez where he is today, from a barefoot boy in Montevideo - after his family left their home in Salto when he was young - to terrorising defences across Europe as part of the 'MSN' strike force alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Make no mistake, there is no shortage of talent but when you watch Suarez in action it is his work-rate, his constant motion, his aggression which stands out.

When you combine the gifts of his ability with his mentality it is an intoxicating cocktail.

It is easy to see how he offers Barcelona, and those teams who have enjoyed him previously, something different to what they have already. And it is incredibly effective.

Suarez brought up his 100th goal for the Catalans this month in his 120th appearance, a better rate than Messi, Samuel Eto'o or Rivaldo, and last season he scored 40 times in LaLiga to break the six-year Messi-Ronaldo stranglehold on the Pichichi awarded to Spain's leading scorer.

He claims his fair share of the limelight at the Nou Camp, although probably not as much as he deserves, which is no mean feat considering he is playing with two of the three most high-profile attackers in world football.

However, to see his true influence you have to look at what went before at Liverpool and prior to that in Holland with Ajax and Groningen.

In 2014 Suarez almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool to their first league title since 1990.

Yes, fellow forward Daniel Sturridge scored 21 goals that season but many of those were as a result of the mayhem Suarez created.

And it was mayhem. During 2013-14 Suarez hit the sort of form most footballers can only dream about. He was brilliance personified.

Opposition defences were visibly on the back foot from the moment the team sheets were out and many of them were on their backsides once Suarez had run at them on the pitch.

Defenders who played for Norwich between 2012 and 2014 are probably still scarred by the experience as Suarez plundered 12 goals in five matches against the Canaries, several of them goal-of-the-season contenders in themselves.

Fans of Ajax, where he once scored 49 in a season, and Groningen will tell similar stories. Suarez was a threat wherever he was.

The edge which makes him the player has also bitten him back.

Three biting incidents and a racial abuse charge have brought combined bans totalling 45 matches and worldwide condemnation.

He went from Africa's public enemy number one after denying a Ghana goal in a World Cup 2010 quarter-final with a deliberate handball to a global pariah whose future in the game hung by a thread after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 finals.

There were genuine doubts whether he would still be relevant, never mind at the top of his game, by the time of his 30th birthday, which he celebrates on Tuesday.

It may have crushed a lesser player but Suarez, a dogged street-fighter, viewed it all as coming with the territory - almost a necessary evil to be tolerated to serve his all-pervading will to win.

To say he has moved on would be an understatement. He is less angry, one would say finally happy at Barcelona, where he enjoys a close relationship with next-door neighbour Messi.

He still does not get the recognition he deserves from the establishment in terms of UEFA and FIFA when the annual awards are handed out, but the rehabilitation of Luis Suarez appears to now be complete. Sit back and enjoy.

Press Association

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